WhatsApp spyware: Hyderabad-based civil rights advocate claims he was targeted

The Pegasus spyware infected about 1,400 civil rights activists, lawyers, and journalists across the world.


Hyderabad-based civil rights advocate has been targeted by the Pegasus spyware, which infected about 1,400 civil rights activists, lawyers, and journalists across the world.

Balla Ravindranath said he started receiving messages from an unknown international number to his Whatsapp claiming to be from a Canada-based Citizen Labs since 7 October, saying they were conducting a survey on the hacking, which the lawyer ignored.

WhatsApp spyware: Hyderabad-based civil rights advocate claims he was targeted

Representation image. Credit: Reuters

"I thought they (the messages) might be spam or fraud. Subsequently, there were some WhatsApp calls also from the same number. I ignored them too. On 29 October, I received an official message from WhatsApp saying that my phone may be compromised. I ignored that also. Later when the company filed the lawsuit (against NSO group), I realised that my phone was hacked," Ravindarnath told PTI.

(Also read: Israeli Pegasus snooping case: Number of activists who confirmed being contacted by WhatsApp over surveillance rises to 20)

On 31 October, Facebook-owned WhatsApp had said Indian journalists and human rights activists were among those globally spied upon by unnamed entities using an Israeli spyware Peagasus (explained).

(Also read: WhatsApp claims it informed authorities about vulnerability in May 2019; govt sources say advisory full of 'technical jargon')

WhatsApp had said it was suing NSO Group, an Israeli surveillance firm, that is reportedly behind the technology that helped unnamed entities' spies hack into phones of roughly 1,400 users spanning across four continents and included diplomats, political dissidents, journalists and senior government officials.

(Also read: WhatsApp's report to CERT-IN back in May about Pegasus is now gone for reasons unknown)

However, the company didn't disclose the details or the number of people affected in India. WhatsApp had on Tuesday filed a lawsuit in a US federal court against NSO Group.

(Also read: WhatsApp hack: Onus lies on govt to come clean considering those compromised are 'anti-establishment operators')

Ravindranath is the general secretary of the committee for release of political prisoners (CRPP), which was described as a "frontal organisation" of banned CPI (Maoist) by the Bhadradri Kothagudem Police.

The police also alleged that Ravindranath, among other has been working for Maoists in urban areas to propagate the ideology. However, the allegation was rejected by the lawyer.

He said as an organisation they were working for the release of "political prisoners" including Maoists.

(Also read: WhatsApp Hack: Government expresses concern over not disclosing the incident earlier)

According to a recent statement by WhatsApp, it had reportedly told the Indian government about the spyware back in May 2019. However, government sources told ANI that the "communication was in pure technical jargon without any mention of Israeli Pegasus or the extent of the breach".

On 31 October, the Centre sought an explanation from WhatsApp to explain the breach of privacy after the messaging platform informed several Indian users this week that they had been targetted by Pegasus earlier this year.

With inputs from PTI.