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What is WhatsApp's spyware row?
On October 29, 2019, Facebook-owned platform WhatsApp filed a lawsuit in a US federal court in San Francisco against Israeli hacking tool developer NSO Group alleging that the firm built and sold a hacking platform that exploited a flaw in WhatsApp-owned servers to help clients hack into the cellphones of at least 1,400 users.
How were the phones hacked?
In 2016, a human rights activist from UAE received a text from an unknown number. When he flagged the message to a Canadian digital rights watchdog, they learned of 'Pegasus' - a powerful snooping software. This software downloads itself onto a phone. However, reports say that so far Pegasus has made its way into phones via missed calls on WhatsApp. Thus, the victim has no means to prevent their phone from being hacked.
How has Pegasus been used?
Pegasus has been used across the world against dissidents, human rights activists and journalists. WhatsApp has found that 1,400 people around the world fell victim to Pegasus using just one of its delivery methods: missed WhatsApp calls. Of those, 100 are members of “civil society” according to WhatsApp’s statement, calling it an “unmistakable pattern of abuse”. At least twenty countries from across the globe were targeted ranging from  Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and North America.
WhatsApp's lawsuit
In its lawsuit, WhatsApp claimed, "(NSO) set up various computer infrastructure, including WhatsApp accounts and remote servers” and then “used WhatsApp accounts to initiate calls through Plaintiffs’ servers that were designed to secretly inject malicious code onto Target Devices”. It then “caused the malicious code to execute on some of the Target Devices, creating a connection between those Target Devices and computers controlled by Defendants (the ‘remote servers’)”.
WhatsApp snooping impact on India
WhatsApp claimed that Indian journalists and human rights activists had been the target of surveillance. While WhatsApp has not specified a number, media reports claim that at least two dozen academics, lawyers, Dalit activists and journalists in India were contacted and alerted by WhatsApp that their phones had been under surveillance for a two-week period until May 2019.
WhatsApp's warning to the Indian government
Amid an uproar over the breach of mobile phones of citizens, the ministry of communications and IT summoned WhatsApp officials to explain why it had failed to disclose the spyware attack to Indian authorities.
WhatsApp in return claimed that the government had been informed of the security issue in May itself.