Government officials worldwide targeted in WhatsApp hack: report

Government officials worldwide targeted in WhatsApp hack: report
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Officials in several countries have reportedly been targeted in a hack affecting the messaging app WhatsApp. 

Reuters reported Friday, citing people familiar with an investigation into the matter, that senior officials were targeted through WhatsApp by a hacking software that took over peoples' phones. 

The sources reportedly said that a “significant” portion of people known to be victims are high-profile government and military personnel in at least 20 countries on five continents. They reportedly said that many of the countries are allied with the U.S.

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The sources told Reuters that those who have been affected by the hack are from the U.S., United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Mexico, Pakistan and India. The news outlet reported that it is not clear whether the government officials were from those countries. 

The news comes as Facebook, which owns WhatsApp, on Tuesday sued an Israeli cyber surveillance firm over allegations that it hacked approximately 1,400 WhatsApp users. 

The company is alleging that the Israeli NSO Group targeted journalists, human rights activists and other civil society individuals.  

"This is the first time that an encrypted messaging provider is taking legal action against a private entity that has carried out this type of attack against its users," WhatsApp said in a blog post on Tuesday. 

NSO Group denied the allegations in a statement.  

"In the strongest possible terms, we dispute today’s allegations and will vigorously fight them," the group said. "The sole purpose of NSO is to provide technology to licensed government intelligence and law enforcement agencies to help them fight terrorism and serious crime. Our technology is not designed or licensed for use against human rights activists and journalists. It has helped to save thousands of lives over recent years." 

According to Reuters, WhatsApp notified affected users this week.

A WhatsApp spokesperson directed The Hill to its Tuesday blog post when asked for comment. 

The spokesperson also noted a paragraph in the lawsuit's complaint which states "Between approximately April 29, 2019, and May 10, 2019, Defendants caused their malicious code to be transmitted over WhatsApp servers in an effort to infect approximately 1,400 Target Devices. The Target Users included attorneys, journalists, human rights activists, political dissidents, diplomats, and other senior foreign government officials."

Updated at 1:26 p.m.