Seventeen individuals including human rights activists, scholars and journalists have so far confirmed to Scroll.in that they were targeted by a spyware on the messaging platform WhatsApp. Some of them suggested that Indian government agencies may have been involved in the surveillance, as they were told by a Canada-based cyber security group that is assisting WhatsApp in investigating the spyware attack.
Three lawyers who were targeted linked the security breach to the Bhima Koregaon case, in which 10 human rights activists were arrested last year on charges of links with a banned Maoist outfit.
WhatsApp on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against NSO Group, an Israeli cyber intelligence firm whose spyware Pegasus was used to target around 1,400 users globally during a two-week period in May. NSO Group has disputed the allegations but said it has sold its spyware only to government agencies.
At least two dozen Indian journalists, academics, Dalit activists and lawyers may have been targeted, The Indian Express reported on Thursday. The Ministry of Communications and Information Technology has asked WhatsApp for a response on the security breach by November 4, News18 reported. Ravi Shankar Prasad, who is in charge of the ministry, said the government is concerned at the breach, and that state agencies have a well-established protocol for interception for clearly stated reasons in the national interest.