WhatsApp is urging users to download and install the latest version of the app due to a vulnerability discovered that permitted spyware to be installed into a user’s phone through the platform’s call function.
The Financial Times first reported the vulnerability claiming it was developed by NSO Group, the Israeli cyber intelligence company.
The spyware is injected into a user’s phone through the transmission of malicious code to the device by calling. It infects the call whether or not a user answered the phone.
According to the report, incoming call logs were erased.
WhatsApp has admitted that the vulnerability was discovered this month and it addressed the problem within its own infrastructure.
An update to the app was published Monday, and the company is encouraging users to upgrade out of an abundance of caution.
“The attack has all the hallmarks of a private company reportedly that works with governments to deliver spyware that takes over the functions of mobile phone operating systems,” WhatsApp said in a statement.
“We have briefed a number of human rights organizations to share the information we can and to work with them to notify civil society,” the company said.
NSO Group did not immediately respond to the Guardian’s request for comment. The company told the FT that it was investigating the WhatsApp attacks.
“NSO would not, or could not, use its technology in its own right to target any person or organization, including this individual,” said a statement from NSO.
NSO limits the sales of its spyware to state intelligence agencies. Its spyware’s capabilities are near absolute. Once installed on a phone, the software can extract all of the data that’s already on the device (text messages, contacts, GPS location, email, browser history, among others) in addition to creating new data by using the phone’s microphone and camera to record the user’s surroundings and ambient sounds, according to a 2016 report by the New York Times.
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WhatsApp has about 1.5 billion users around the world. The messaging app uses end-to-end encryption, making it popular and secure for activists and dissidents. The Pegasus spyware does not affect or involve the app’s encryption.