WhatsApp ‘spy’ hack: Government does not know how many Brits affected

WhatsApp ‘spy’ hack: Government does not know how many Brits affected

May 15, 2019

Minister admits Government does not yet know how many Brits might be affected by WhatsApp ‘spy’ hack

  • Margot James said the likelihood of there being UK victims is being investigated
  • The hack allowed attackers to install malicious code on phones by ringing them
  • Update released by WhatsApp today may not protect users, experts warned 
  •  Company believes only a ‘select number of users were targeted’ in attack

The Government does not know how many British users may have been affected by a ‘terrifying’ WhatsApp security breach affecting users worldwide, MPs have heard.

Digital Minister Margot James said the likelihood of there being UK victims of the attack is being investigated but said, as yet, there is no information about how many people could have been targeted. 

The vulnerability allowed attackers to install malicious code on iPhones and Android phones by ringing up a target device. The code could be transmitted even if users did not answer their phones and a log of the call often disappeared, according to reports.

The company said it was still investigating the breach but believed only a ‘select number of users were targeted through this vulnerability by an advanced cyber actor.’ 

Responding to questions in the House of Commons about how many UK users may have been affected, Ms James said the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) was investigating and the advice from WhatsApp is to install the newest updates of the app.

She said: ‘I am assured by the NCSC that the advice they are giving at the moment is what we should all be following, and they are investigating the likelihood of any UK users having been victims of this latest attack but, as yet, I don’t have any further information on that particular point to inform the House.’

Digital Minister Margot James told MPs the likelihood of there being UK victims of the attack is being investigated

Shadow digital secretary Tom Watson warned a security flaw in the messaging app could be used by states to monitor human rights groups.

An an update released by WhatsApp to stop hackers injecting 1.5bn phones with surveillance software may not be enough to protect users, experts today warned.      

Shadow digital secretary Tom Watson warned a security flaw in the messaging app could be used by states to monitor human rights groups.  

Asking an urgent question in the Commons, Mr Watson said: ‘Another day, another serious, major data breach from a Mark Zuckerberg company.’

He added the spyware, called Pegasus, had been created by an Israeli security company, the NSO Group.

The West Bromwich East MP said the malicious software is transmitted via a phone call and is then able to access ‘everything’.

Mr Watson said: ‘It can even use the phone’s camera and microphone to record the user’s surroundings. That is terrifying.’

He added 1.5 billion people worldwide use WhatsApp, with millions of users in the UK.

The attack could have been carried out by a ‘state actor’, he said.

Ms James replied: ‘I agree that these transgressions are happening far too frequently.’

She said Digital Secretary Jeremy Wright has already raised his ‘deep concern’ with former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Nick Clegg, who is now the global head of public affairs for Facebook, which owns WhatsApp.

Ms James added: ‘I share the concerns that this type of attack could be used by a state to monitor human rights activists.’  

WhatsApp said on Tuesday that a security breach on its messaging app had signs of coming from a government using surveillance technology developed by a private company, and it may have targeted human rights groups.

WhatsApp, a unit of Facebook, said it had notified the U.S. Department of Justice to help with an investigation, and it encouraged all WhatsApp users to update to the latest version of the app, where the breach had been fixed.

WhatsApp is one of the world’s most popular messaging tools. 

It has touted its high level of security and privacy, with messages on its platform being encrypted end-to-end so that WhatsApp and third parties cannot read or listen to them.

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