WhatsApp fixes flaw, urges users to upgrade app

WhatsApp users can heave a sigh of relief as the messaging service has fixed a security flaw which enabled hackers to install spyware on smartphones.

The company detected the vulnerability early this month, patched it within 10 daysand rolled out an update.

WhatsApp wants its users to immediately upgrade to the latest version of their app and keep their mobile operating system up to date.

The suspect behind the hacking is a shadowy Israeli company, NSO Group, which makes products for Middle Eastern and Western intelligence agencies, Financial Times said.

Whoever targeted WhatsApp used a bug in the app’s audio call feature to install the spyware irrespective of whether the call was answered. So a missed call on WhatsApp was enough to infect some of the app users’ phones with the spying software.

According to Financial Times, NSO’s Pegasus software had been used by governments to spy on activists and journalists. It can turn on a phone’s microphone and camera, collect location data and read through emails and text messages.

NSO claims its products are used by government agencies to investigate and prevent terrorism and crime.

Without naming NSO, WhatsApp said the attack had the hallmarks of a private firm known to work with governments to deliver spyware.

The hackers targeted Apple iPhones, Google’s Android system, Microsoft Windows Phones and Samsung’s Tizen system.

The firm has reported the matter to the authorities in the US to help with the investigation.

Among those targeted by the hackers were a UK-based human rights lawyer, a close friend of the murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and an employee of Amnesty International.

A Canada-based dissident and several Mexican activists are suing NSO in an Israeli court.

Amnesty said it would join international efforts in pressuring Israel to suspend NSO’s export licence.

Some 1.5 billion people around the world use WhatsApp.