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Exclusive: WhatsApp Hacked to Spy on Top Governments of US Allies – Sources

FILE PHOTO: The WhatsApp messaging application is viewed on a phone screen August 3, 2017. REUTERS / Thomas White / File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) ̵[ads1]1; Senior government officials in several US-allied countries were targeted earlier this year with hacking software who used Facebook Inc ( FB.O ) WhatsApp to take over users' phones, according to people familiar with the message company's investigation.

Sources familiar with WhatsApp's internal investigation of the breach said that a "significant" portion of the known victims are high-profile authorities and military officials spread across at least 20 countries on five continents.

The hacking of a wider group of top government smartphones than previously reported suggests that WhatsApp cyber penetration can have major political and diplomatic consequences.

WhatsApp filed lawsuit on Tuesday against Israeli hacking tool developer NSO Group. The Facebook-owned software giant claims that NSO Group built and sold a hacking platform that exploited a bug in WhatsApp-owned servers to help clients hack into the mobile phones of at least 1,400 users.

Although it is not clear who used the software to hack officials' phones, NSO says it sells the spyware exclusively to government customers.

Some victims are located in the United States, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Mexico, Pakistan and India, say people familiar with the investigation. Reuters could not confirm whether victims from these countries included government officials.

The disclosure comes as more than a dozen Indian journalists and human rights activists on Thursday said they were also targeted.

The NSO did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In the past, it has denied any wrongdoing and said the products are only meant to help governments capture terrorists and criminals.

Reporting by Christopher Bing and Raphael Satter; Editing by Chris Sanders and Lisa Shumaker

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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