Facebook Warning To Terror Suspect ‘Killed’ Investigation
European law-enforcement officials say they were tracking the online movements of a suspected terrorist with links to IS in October last year, fearing an attack during Christmas season.
That was until their access to the terror suspects accounts went dark.
WhatsApp – Facebook Inc.’s popular messaging platform, had notified almost around 1,400 users, including a suspected terrorist, that their phones had been hacked by an ‘advanced cyber actor,’ according to Wall Street Journal.
The suspect was being tracked by an elite surveillance team using spyware from NSO Group – an Israeli company, according to a law agent overseeing the investigation.
The orders for the hacking came from a judge in the Western European country, who gave the green light to investigators to use all means necessary to access the suspects phone. The investigators then used its government’s contract with NSO.
NSO licences its spyware to government clients for the purposes of hacking targets.
The bungled terror investigation was described by law enforcement officials as an increasingly common clash of concerns over public security and personal privacy.
WhatsApp’s October 29 message to users warned government officials, journalists and activists that their phones had been compromised, Facebook claimed.
But it also had the unintentional consequence of jeopardising multiple national-security investigations in Western Europe.
‘The hacking methods described in our lawsuit against the NSO Group are illegal. We remain committed to the security and protection of users from cyberattacks,’ WhatsApp said, WSJ reports.
When the official overseeing the terror investigation in Eastern Europe was told of the WhatsApp alert, he said he initially thought it was a joke.
He then revealed that his first concern was the suspected terrorist investigation linked to the Islamic State, which they had received a tip off about a plot to attack around Christmas.
Once the terror suspect received the WhatsApp alert, the official said his phone went dark and that they hold lost access to his messages – indicating he had deleted them or disabled the phone.
‘We only had that one phone… We put all our efforts into using this product to see what he was doing, which mosque he was going to, who was talking to him, whether the group was spread in neighbouring countries,’ the official said.
The official accused WhatsApp of ‘[killing] the operation’ because the suspect can only be monitored through traditional surveillance.
The investigation is ongoing.