Amid an uproar over allegations of an Israeli software being used to spy over activists and journalists, WhatsApp has said that it had informed the Indian government in September that 121 Indian citizens may have been targeted.
According to Hindustan Times, two alerts – one in May and the September communication – were reiterated in the response, which was sent ahead of the November 4 deadline set by the government. An official told the leading daily, that the company had responded to the ministry of electronics and information technology’s calls for an explanation over the kind of breach and what steps it had taken to protect users.
On Thursday, the Facebook-owned company had said Indian journalists and human rights activists were among those globally spied upon by unnamed entities using an Israeli spyware Pegasus, leading to a furore over breach of citizens' privacy. Following the disclosure by WhatsApp, the Indian government has asked the messaging platform to explain the matter and list out the measures that have been taken by it to safeguard the privacy of millions of Indians.
"The 121 individuals purportedly affected were certainly under threat, but it remains unclear how many of them were the victims of a successful hacking," the official told the Hindustan Times.
In a statement, WhatsApp said, "Our highest priority is the privacy and security of WhatsApp users. In May, we quickly resolved a security issue and notified relevant Indian and international government authorities. Since then we've worked to identify targeted users to ask the courts to hold the international spyware firm known as the NSO Group accountable."
WhatsApp on Tuesday filed a lawsuit in a California federal court against NSO Group, which allegedly developed the spyware, saying an attempt was made to infect approximately 1,400 "target devices" globally with malicious software to steal valuable information from those using the messaging app.