WhatsApp has urged all of its 1.5 billion users to update their apps as a precautionary measure against an attack that targeted a “select number” of users.
WhatsApp describing the attack, said “a buffer overflow vulnerability in WhatsApp VOIP stack allowed remote code execution via specially crafted series of SRTCP packets sent to a target phone number”.
The issue affected WhatsApp for Android prior to v2.19.134, WhatsApp Business for Android prior to v2.19.44, WhatsApp for iOS prior to v2.19.51, WhatsApp Business for iOS prior to v2.19.51, WhatsApp for Windows Phone prior to v2.18.348, and WhatsApp for Tizen prior to v2.18.15.
“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,” the company said on Monday in a briefing document note for journalists.
Hackers were able to remotely install surveillance software on phones and other devices using the vulnerability in the messaging app.
It involves attackers using WhatsApp’s voice calling function to ring a target’s device. Even if the call was not picked up, the surveillance software would be installed, and, the FT reported, the call would often disappear from the device’s call log.
Meanwhile, NSO Group, an Israeli company that has been referred to in the past as a “cyber arms dealer”, has been said to be behind the software.
Its flagship software, Pegasus, has the ability to collect intimate data from a target device, including capturing data through the microphone and camera, and gathering location data.
In a statement, the group said: “NSO’s technology is licensed to authorised government agencies for the sole purpose of fighting crime and terror.
“The company does not operate the system, and after a rigorous licensing and vetting process, intelligence and law enforcement determine how to use the technology to support their public safety missions. We investigate any credible allegations of misuse and if necessary, we take action, including shutting down the system.
“Under no circumstances would NSO be involved in the operating or identifying of targets of its technology, which is solely operated by intelligence and law enforcement agencies. NSO would not or could not use its technology in its own right to target any person or organisation.”
WhatsApp said it was too early to know how many users had been affected by the vulnerability, although it added that suspected attacks were highly-targeted.
Meanwhile, a fix was rolled out on Friday, and the firm expects all of its 1.5 billion users to update their WhatsApp as a precautionary measure.
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