If you received a strange phone call on your WhatsApp in recent weeks, you may have been the victim of a cyber crime — even if you didn’t answer the call.
WhatsApp, an encrypted messaging app owned by Facebook, was attacked by an unknown group of cyber hackers. These hackers called WhatsApp users and then gained access to their personal information and installed spyware on their phones, allowing them further access to sensitive information. The spyware could be installed even if users didn’t answer the call.
While we do not yet know who was behind this potentially massive breach, the Financial Times, which broke the story about the breach, reported that the hackers used spyware technology that was first developed by the NSO Group, an Israeli technology firm. NSO Group says they are not involved in the hack.
By using NSO’s Pegasus malware, cyber hackers were able to discover WhatsApp’s users’ location, and they were able to record their phone calls and text messages. The malware even gives the criminals access to your phone’s camera and microphone, meaning they potentially could have the power to record victims without their knowledge.
“This is a vulnerability that would have enabled attackers to take over a phone with a missed call,” John Scott-Railton, a senior researcher at the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, told CNN.
The initial hack targeted an Amnesty International researcher and a human rights attorney who says he believes others have been targeted as well. But right now, it’s unclear how many people were victims of this attack.
If you are a WhatsApp user and you are now concerned about your privacy, WhatsApp has outlined several steps that customers can take.
Facebook pushed out an update for the smartphone app on Monday and is encouraging users to update their phones immediately.
“WhatsApp encourages people to upgrade to the latest version of our app, as well as keep their mobile operating system up to date, to protect against potential targeted exploits designed to compromise information stored on mobile devices,” said the company in a release.
Potential victims of this hack include both Android, iPhone and Windows users.
WhatsApp says they have alerted the U.S. Justice Department and human rights organizations about this cyber attack.