The US government appears to be stepping up its investigation into a controversial spyware developer currently locked in a legal battle with WhatsApp.
Lawyers with the Department of Justice (DoJ) recently requested more technical information from the Facebook messaging business regarding its court case, a person with knowledge of the matter told The Guardian.
WhatsApp took Israeli firm NSO Group to court in the US in 2019, alleging the latter was directly responsible for cyber-espionage attacks deploying Pegasus spyware on 1400 of its users.
The messaging giant claimed that the “attackers used servers and internet-hosting services that were previously associated with NSO.”
Journalists, human rights activists, political dissidents, and senior government officials were among those allegedly targeted, with most victims located in Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Mexico, said WhatsApp at the time.
It’s unclear how far along the DoJ is in its investigation. It’s claimed the FBI was originally looking in to the matter but the case stalled in early 2020.
NSO Group has consistently argued that its products are only sold to legitimate law enforcement agencies and governments. It is currently arguing in a US Court of Appeals that it should be granted sovereign immunity as a result.
This has dismayed some in the industry. In December last year, Microsoft, Google, Cisco and a host of other big-name tech firms filed an amicus brief in support of Facebook’s position.
Microsoft argued at the time that NSO Group’s products threaten human rights by arming autocratic regimes with repressive tools, and could quite easily end up in the wrong hands, like the Shadow Brokers breach which ultimately led to WannaCry and NotPetya.
Although governments are bound by international laws and diplomatic norms, private companies like NSO Group are motivated only by profit and therefore should not be allowed to claim sovereign immunity, he concluded.