Is spyware technology helping governments hack phones?

In October 2019, the encrypted messaging app WhatsApp filed a lawsuit against a little known Israeli technology company called NSO Group. It accused the group of being responsible for a series of highly sophisticated cyber-attacks on 1,400 of its users, many of them human rights activists, journalists and diplomatic officials. It was the latest twist in a saga that the Guardian’s Stephanie Kirchgaessner had been investigating for months.

She tells Anushka Asthana that after working with researchers at the Canadian firm Citizen Lab, which tracks the use of spyware, she believes current and former clients of NSO Group include Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Mexico and the United Arab Emirates.

NSO Group however, argues that WhatsApp has “conflated” the group’s actions with the actions of its “sovereign customers”. NSO Group says it licenses its signature spying technology, Pegasus, to government law enforcement and intelligence agencies and assists with “training, setup, and installation”, but it does not operate the technology.

As new allegations emerge about the way countries are using this technology, will further challenges be bought to the courts?

An Israeli woman uses her iPhone in front of the building housing the Israeli NSO Group in Herzliya, near Tel Aviv.

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