‘Facebook owned company,WhatsApp, has been asked to clarify about the nature of privacy breach on its messaging platform that is affecting some users of India’ said IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad.
“We have asked WhatsApp to explain the kind of breach and what it is doing to safeguard the privacy of millions of Indian citizens,” Prasad said in a tweet on Thursday.
The story unfolded when WhatsApp sued Israeli surveillance firm NSO Group on last Tuesday. The messaging platform accused NSO of helping government spies to illegally take control of some 1400 users across continents. These users includes diplomats, journalists, civil society activists among others. People familiar with WhatsApp allegations said that a large number of Indian civil society figures were put under surveillance. NSO has however declined the charges.
WhatsApp said that this phone attack is facilitated through a malware that enters a users phone during a video call made by the user. This malware will then allow NSO`s clients like government and other intelligent organisations to spy on the users phone.
Although the company has not identified any user by his name, but some Indian Lawyers, academics, Dalit rights activists and journalists have came forward saying that they received warning messages that they are espionage targets.
Sidhant Sibal, a New Delhi-based journalist, told Reuters the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab – which investigates digital espionage among other research projects – called him about a month ago, informing him that his WhatsApp account was one of several under surveillance.
“In May we stopped an attack where an advanced cyber actor exploited our video calling to install malware on user devices,” the company said, explaining why it was writing to Sidhant Sibal a New-Delhi based journalist and other affected users like him. Last year Indian government asked Cupertino, a California based company to trace the origin of some messages. It said that the platform is being used to spread misinformation.
WhatsApp has said that it has always maintained high level security which includes end to end encryption of messages which cannot be deciphered by WhatsApp or other third parties.