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IT Minister RS Prasad asks WhatsApp to explain about Israeli spyware Pegasus attack

The IT Minister's direction to WhatsApp came amid reports of the latest cyber-attack by an Israeli spyware Pegasus targetting Indian journalists and human rights activists using WhatsApp.

IT Minister RS Prasad asks WhatsApp to explain about Israeli spyware Pegasus attack

NEW DELHI: Union Information and Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Thursday asked the Facebook-owned messaging service WhatsApp to explain about the Israeli spyware Pegasus attack on its users worldwide using its platform.

The Minister also directed WhatsApp to explain what steps it had taken to safeguard the privacy of its users.

The IT Minister's direction to WhatsApp came amid reports of the latest cyberattack by an Israeli spyware Pegasus targetting Indian journalists and human rights activists using WhatsApp.

“The Government of India is concerned at the breach of privacy of citizens of India on the messaging platform Whatsapp. We have asked Whatsapp to explain the kind of breach and what it is doing to safeguard the privacy of millions of Indian citizens,” the Union Law Minister said.

Prasad, however, added that the government is committed to protecting the privacy of all Indian citizens, in a series of tweets over the WhatsApp spyware over the issue.

The Minister further informed that the government has sought a detailed response from WhatsApp on the issue of an Israeli spyware that was allegedly used to target Indian journalists and human rights activists through its platform.

WhatsApp has been asked to submit its reply by November 4.

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The Information and Technology Ministry (IT) has meanwhile written to WhatsApp seeking its response on the matter.

In a series of tweets, Prasad said, ''Govt is committed to protecting the privacy of all Indian citizens. Govt agencies have a well-established protocol for the interception, which includes sanction and supervision from highly ranked officials in central and state governments, for clear stated reasons in the national interest.'' 

''Those trying to make political capital out of it need to be gently reminded about the bugging incident in the office of the then eminent Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee during UPA regime. Also a gentle reminder of the spying over the then Army Chief Gen. V K Singh,'' Prasad said in another tweet.

The Minister concluded by saying, ''These are instances of breach of privacy of highly reputed individuals, for personal whims and fancies of a family.''

It may be recalled that WhatsApp has filed a legal suit in a US Federal Court against an Israeli firm - NSO Group – alleging that it was behind cyber-attacks that infected devices with malicious software.

In its complaint against the Israeli firm, WhatsApp claimed that the firm installed spyware on users' phones and targeted human rights defenders, journalists, political dissidents, diplomats and government officials.

WhatsApp claimed that Indian journalists and human rights activists were among those globally spied upon by unnamed entities using an Israeli sypware Pegasus.

WhatsApp accused the NSO Group of sending malware to roughly 1,400 mobile phones for ''surveillance.''

The Israeli firm, which makes software for surveillance, has rejected these allegations.

In its complaint, WhatsApp claimed that the NSO Group "developed their malware in order to access messages and other communications after they were decrypted on target devices".

WhatsApp also alleged that the NSO Group created various WhatsApp accounts and caused the malicious code to be transmitted over the WhatsApp servers in April and May.

"We believe this attack targeted at least 100 members of civil society, which is an unmistakable pattern of abuse," WhatsApp said in a statement.

The affected users are from several countries, including Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Mexico, according to the lawsuit.

WhatsApp said that it is seeking a permanent injunction banning NSO from using its service.

The firm, which was acquired by Facebook in 2014, said it was the first time an encrypted messaging provider had taken legal action of this kind.

It may be recalled that the facebook-owned messaging services promotes itself as a "secure" communications app because messages are end-to-end encrypted.

This means they should only be displayed in a legible form on the sender or recipient's device.