The hacking of Saudi dissident Abdulaziz’s phone with the company’s Pegasus spyware played a key role in the murder of Khashoggi, The New York Times concluded.
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Abdulaziz has since launched a lawsuit against NSO, in addition to a group of Mexican journalists and activists and a Qatari journalist.
WhatsApp, a messaging and call app used by more than a billion people worldwide, discovered early this month that attackers had been able to install surveillance software on both iPhones and Android phones simply by calling targets through the app.
The code, developed by NSO, could be transferred onto phones even if users did not answer the call, a spyware technology dealer briefed on the hack told The Financial Times.
The calls often disappeared from call logs, leaving no evidence of the source of the hack, the spyware dealer added.
WhatsApp engineers were racing against time to close the breach that allowed the hack as late as Sunday, when a phone belonging to a UK-based lawyer involved in a case against NSO was allegedly hacked.
The unidentified lawyer represented Abdulaziz and a group of Mexican journalists and activists in a Cyprus-based lawsuit against the spyware company.
Canadian research group Citizen Lab said they believed the attack on the lawyer was linked to the WhatsApp breach.
Citizen Lab gained attention in 2018 for its repeated investigations of NSO, whose Pegasus spyware researchers say was used to target activists in the Middle East.
“We had a strong suspicion that the person’s phone was being targeted, so we observed the suspected attack, and confirmed that it did not result in infection,” John Scott-Railton, a senior researcher with Citizen Lab, told the FT.
“We believe that the measures that WhatsApp put in place in the last several days prevented the attacks from being successful.”
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