Facebook messaging system WhatsApp has been hit with a security breach that the company said could leave uses vulnerable to malicious spyware being installed on their smartphones.
A WhatsApp spokesperson told Reuters that the attacked appeared to be orchestrated by a “private company working with governments on surveillance.”
Facebook discovered the breach earlier this month, and last week reported it to the U.S. Justice Department and the European Union’s Data Protection Commission. Facebook has touted the app, which is used by some 1.5 billion people monthly, as being a secure and private messaging system.
According to a news report from Financial Times (FT), hackers were able to install commercial Israeli spyware, developed by Israel's NSO Group, onto Android and iPhone handsets through the app.
The software was designed for intelligence agencies to use to fight terrorism. The software is able to ring users’ phones and thereby gain access to the device through the WhatsApp call function. FT reported that the software can work even if the targeted users do not answer the calls.
WhatsApp is still investigating the breach, and has not yet said how many users may have been affected by the issue. It said it was able to quickly fix the breach, and urged users to update the app and their phone OS to protect themselves against security breaches.