A vulnerability in messaging app WhatsApp allowed attackers to install Israeli spyware onto phones, the Financial Times reported Monday.
The malicious code, developed by Israeli company NSO Group, was installed on both iPhones and Android phones through the app's phone call feature, the newspaper reported. The spyware could be transmitted even if the target victim didn't answer their phone, and the calls often disappeared from users' call logs.
Consequently, WhatsApp is encouraging users to update to the latest version of the app after discovering a vulnerability that allowed spyware to be injected into a user’s phone through the app’s phone call function.
Attackers could transmit the malicious code to a target’s device by calling the user and infecting the call whether or not the recipient answered the call. Logs of the incoming calls were often erased, according to the report.
WhatsApp said that the vulnerability was discovered this month, and that the company quickly addressed the problem within its own infrastructure. An update to the app was published Monday, and the company is encouraging users to upgrade out of an abundance of caution.
The company said the attack has the hallmarks of a private company that reportedly works with governments to deliver spyware that takes over the functions of mobile phone operating systems.
"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," a WhatsApp spokesperson said in a statement.
The company has also alerted US law enforcement to the exploit, and published a “CVE notice”, an advisory to other cybersecurity experts alerting them to “common vulnerabilities and exposures”.
The vulnerability was used in an attempted attack on the phone of a UK-based attorney on 12 May, the FT reported. The lawyer, who was not identified by name, is involved in a lawsuit against NSO brought by a group of Mexican journalists, government critics and a Saudi Arabian dissident.