Pegasus spyware scandal: What did WhatsApp say earlier, what is NSO Group saying

Pegasus spyware scandal: What did WhatsApp say earlier, what is NSO Group saying

Pegasus Israeli spyware was used to snoop on journalists and activists in India and several other countries. NSO Group earlier said that the spyware was sold only to governments.

(Image courtesy: Reuters) (Image courtesy: Reuters)
Story highlights
  • Earlier WhatsApp had said that the Pegasus scandal showed a "mistakable battery of abuse."
  • WhatsApp filed a case against NSO Group, the creator of Pegasus.
  • NSO Group, based in Israel, claimed that Pegasus was sold only to governments for legitimate use.

Pegasus spyware has been called one of the most sophisticated ever. And now that it is the news again, it is worth looking back and see what WhatsApp and NSO Group earlier said about it.

News about Pegasus spyware developed by Israeli cybersecurity firm NSO created buzz in 2019 when it was revealed that the spyware could target not only Android phones but iOS as well using just a missed WhatsApp call. Even the call record for this missed call could be deleted by the spyware, thus, making it virtually impossible for anyone to know that they had been targeted by it.

Facebook-owned WhatsApp in October 2019 said Indian journalists and human rights activists were among those globally spied upon by unnamed entities using the Israeli spyware Pegasus.

The company also filed a case against NSO Group in the US, alleging that the sale of Pegasus like software was akin to selling cyber weapons. In late 2020, companies like Google and Microsoft joined forces with WhatsApp in the court against NSO Group.

In 2019, WhatsApp quickly closed the security vulnerability that helped Pegasus and launched a six-month-long investigation into 'abuse of its platforms'. The probe for the first time revealed the extent and nature of the surveillance operations that the Herzliya-based NSO Group has enabled.

WhatsApp described the Pegasus operations as "an unmistakable pattern of abuse". The Facebook-owned messaging app further added that "There must be strong legal oversight of cyber weapons like the one used in this attack to ensure they are not used to violate individual rights and freedoms people deserve wherever they live. Human rights groups have documented a disturbing trend that such tools have been used to attack journalists and human rights defenders."

On the other side, NSO Group said that its technology was sold only to carefully vetted customers and used to prevent terrorism and crime. NSO Group said that it respected human rights unequivocally and also conducted a thorough evaluation of the potential for misuse of its products by clients, which includes a review of a country's past human rights record and governance standards. The company further added that it believed the allegations of misuse of its products were based on "erroneous information".

Back in late 2019, when the Pegasus spyware scandal was at its peak, the NSO Group said in a statement: "In the strongest possible terms, we dispute today's allegations and will vigorously fight them. Our technology is not designed or licensed for use against human rights activists and journalists."

On Sunday evening, NSO Group in the statement to the Guardian called its report — titled The Pegasus Project — an attempt to discredit NSO Group on false grounds. "NSO does not operate the systems that it sells to vetted government customers, and does not have access to the data of its customers' targets," the company noted in its lengthy statement to the British news website.