U.S. Court Orders NSO Group to Hand Over Pegasus Spyware Code to WhatsApp

A U.S. judge has ordered NSO Group to hand over its source code for Pegasus and other remote access trojans to Meta as part of the social media giant’s on-going litigation against the Israeli spyware vendor.


The decision marks a major legal victory for Meta, which filed the lawsuit in October 2019 for using its infrastructure to distribute the spyware to approximately 1,400 mobile devices between April and May. This also included two dozen Indian activists and journalists.

Key Pointers

These attacks leveraged a then zero-day flaw in the instant messaging app (CVE-2019-3568, CVSS score: 9.8), a critical buffer overflow bug in the voice call functionality, to deliver Pegasus by merely placing a call, even in scenarios where the calls were left unanswered.

The attack chain included steps to erase the incoming call information from the logs in an attempt to sidestep detection.

The infrastructure network is highly likely associated with Predator customers, including in countries like Angola, Armenia, Botswana, Egypt, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Oman, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, and Trinidad and Tobago. It’s worth noting that no Predator customers within Botswana and the Philippines had been identified until now.

Sekoia, in its own report about the Predator spyware ecosystem, said it found three domains likely related to customers in Botswana, Mongolia, and Sudan, stating it detected a “significant increase in the number of generic malicious domains which do not give indications on targeted entities and possible customers.”

“While the court’s decision is a positive development, it is disappointing that NSO Group will be allowed to continue keeping the identity of its clients, who are responsible for this unlawful targeting, secret,” said Donncha Ó Cearbhaill, head of the Security Lab at Amnesty International.

NSO Group was sanctioned by the U.S. in 2021 for developing and supplying cyber weapons to foreign governments that “used these tools to maliciously target government officials, journalists, businesspeople, activists, academics, and embassy workers.”

“This imposes a business model in which privacy becomes a luxury rather than a fundamental right, directly reinforcing existing discriminatory exclusion from access to the digital realm and control over personal data,” they said, adding the practice would undermine GDPR regulations.

The development comes as threat intelligence firm Recorded Future revealed a new multi-tiered delivery infrastructure associated with Predator, a mercenary mobile spyware managed by the Intellexa Alliance.

(Image courtesy: AVG Antivirus)

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