Tag Archives: Whatsapp

Interpol plans to condemn encryption spread, citing predators, sources say

The international police organisation Interpol plans to condemn the spread of strong encryption in a statement Monday saying it protects child sex predators, three people briefed on the matter told Reuters.

At the group’s conference in Lyon, France on Friday, an Interpol official said a version of the resolution introduced by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation would be released without a formal vote by representatives of the roughly 60 countries in attendance, the sources said.

Echoing a joint letter last month from the top law enforcement officials in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia, the larger group will cite difficulties in catching child sexual predators as grounds for companies opening up user communications to authorities wielding court warrants.

“Service providers, application developers and device manufacturers are developing and deploying products and services with encryption which effectively conceals sexual exploitation of children occurring on their platforms,” a draft of the resolution seen by Reuters said.

“Tech companies should include mechanisms in the design of their encrypted products and services whereby governments, acting with appropriate legal authority, can obtain access to data in a readable and useable format.”

Interpol did not respond to a request for comment Sunday. The FBI referred questions to Interpol.

The cooperative law enforcement association is best known for helping countries assist one another in catching suspects outside their jurisdictions. The new statement will not have the force of law, but instead aim at increasing pressure on tech providers.

It could provide greater political cover for more countries to pass laws or regulations barring unbreakable encryption or requiring companies to be capable of hacking their own users, both of which are anathema to major U.S.-based global providers including Apple and Google.

Both the United Kingdom and Australia have recently passed laws moving in that direction, though it is unclear how widely they are being wielded. U.S. skirmishes have been fought in sealed court proceedings, without major congressional action.

Interpol joining the political fray is notable because the group includes Russia and other countries without rules against mass surveillance or spying on political minorities and activists.

“This proposal will endanger people who rely on strong encryption to keep them safe, including from hackers and repressive regimes,” said a spokesman for Facebook, which was among the tech companies in Lyon for the conference. “It will also weaken the online security of over a billion people.”

Facebook, owner of WhatsApp and Instagram, moved to the front of the political fight this year by announcing plans to make its popular Messenger communication service encrypted end-to-end, so that neither Facebook nor law enforcement can view content unless they have access to one of the endpoint devices.

Because Messenger has been one of the most valuable sources of information about child predators, the step provoked the October joint letter from three of the “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance, which also includes Canada and New Zealand.

Tech activists, pointing to past abuses of “exceptional access” for governments, have been alarmed at the political and legal trend, and that accelerated over the weekend. If an international company provides hacking capability under the legal system in one nation, they say, other countries will demand and get the same access, potentially across borders.

“The idea that the U.S. is so concerned about having lawful exceptional access to end-to-end encryption that they are willing to spread that to nearly every jurisdiction in the world, including authoritarian states with which we would otherwise not share information, is unthinkable to me,” said Andrew Crocker, an attorney at the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation.

“To give that power to Russia, China and other authoritarian states is complete dereliction of duty of the U.S. government to protect us.”

WhatsApp adds shopping catalog feature, courting e-commerce

Facebook Inc  on Thursday launched a catalog feature for its WhatsApp messaging app, it said in a blog post, building out the service’s e-commerce tools as it moves slowly toward monetizing the app it bought in 2014 for $19 billion.

Facebook has been trying to boost revenue from higher-growth units like Instagram and Whatsapp, which has 1.5 billion users. The company’s flagship News Feed product continues to draw big ad dollars, but is struggling to generate new users.

The move comes after Facebook added a shopping feature to Instagram in March that lets users click a “checkout” option on items tagged for sale and pay for them directly within the app.

The new WhatsApp tool stops short of that, as transactions still occur elsewhere. But small businesses, the main users of the free WhatsApp Business app, can now display a “mobile storefront” showcasing their wares with images and prices.

“We’re opening commerce as a new chapter,” Amrit Pal, a product manager at WhatsApp, told Reuters. “We hear from businesses every day that WhatsApp is where they meet their customers, rather than sending them to a website.”

Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg has announced plans to shift the company’s focus to private chats, adding bots and augmented reality tools in recent years to encourage businesses to communicate with consumers on its messaging services.

Facebook said last year that it would start charging businesses for sending marketing and customer service messages on WhatsApp at a fixed rate for confirmed delivery, ranging from 0.5 cents to 9 cents per message depending on the country.

More than 100 businesses are now using that paid product, according to a WhatsApp spokesman, while around 5 million use the free WhatsApp Business service. Facebook has not disclosed revenue from its business messaging efforts.

WhatsApp’s catalog feature is available for users in Brazil, Germany, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Britain and the United States and will be rolled out around the world in the next few weeks, said the spokesman.

Facebook unveils new logo to better communicate ownership structure

Facebook on Monday unveiled a new logo to represent the Silicon Valley company, distinct from its core social network.

The move aims to highlight the Facebook “brand” which operates a range of apps and services including messaging, photo-sharing, virtual reality and is developing wallets for digital currency.

The new branding, basically the company name in crisp lettering, will be stamped on its “family” of offerings including WhatsApp, Messenger, Instagram, Oculus, Workplace, Portal and Calibra, according to chief marketing officer Antonio Lucio.

“Today, we’re updating our company branding to be clearer about the products that come from Facebook,” Lucio said.

“We’re introducing a new company logo and further distinguishing the Facebook company from the Facebook app, which will keep its own branding.”

The new corporate logo “is a way to better communicate our ownership structure to the people and businesses who use our services to connect,” Lucio added.

The move comes with Facebook under intense scrutiny from regulators around the world over how it polices content on its platforms, and with some politicians and activists seeking a breakup of Silicon Valley giants.

Since its start as a social networking application 15 years ago, Facebook has acquired Oculus virtual reality gear company as well as Instagram image-based social network. It has also launched Portal smart screens as well as a Workplace social network tailored for workplace productivity.

Its messaging applications WhatsApp and Messenger are each used by more than a billion people.

Facebook established a Calibra as a digital wallet for use with the proposed cryptocurrency Libra, which has been facing criticism from regulators and lawmakers in various countries.

AFP

Government officials around the globe targeted for hacking through WhatsApp – Sources

Senior government officials in multiple U.S allied nations were targeted earlier this year with hacking software that used Facebook Inc’s WhatsApp to take over users’ phones, according to people familiar with the messaging company’s investigation.

Sources familiar with WhatsApp’s internal investigation into the breach said a “significant” portion of the known victims are high-profile government and military officials spread across at least 20 countries on five continents. Many of the nations are U.S allies, they said.

The hacking of a wider group of top government officials’ smartphones than previously reported suggests the WhatsApp cyber intrusion could have broad political and diplomatic consequences.

WhatsApp filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against Israeli hacking tool developer NSO Group. The Facebook-owned software giant alleges that NSO Group built and sold a hacking platform that exploited a flaw in WhatsApp-owned servers to help clients hack into the cellphones of at least 1,400 users between April 29, 2019, and May 10, 2019.

The total number of WhatsApp users hacked could be even higher. A London-based human rights lawyer, who was among the targets, sent Reuters photographs showing attempts to break into his phone dating back to April 1.

While it is not clear who used the software to hack officials’ phones, NSO has said it sells its spyware exclusively to government customers.

Some victims are in the United States, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Mexico, Pakistan and India, said people familiar with the investigation. Reuters could not verify whether the government officials were from those countries or elsewhere.

Some Indian nationals have gone public with allegations they were among the targets over the past couple of days; they include journalists, academics, lawyers and defenders of India’s Dalit community.

NSO said in a statement that it was “not able to disclose who is or is not a client or discuss specific uses of its technology.” Previously it has denied any wrongdoing, saying its products are only meant to help governments catch terrorists and criminals.

Cybersecurity researchers have cast doubt on those claims over the years, saying NSO products were used against a wide range of targets, including protesters in countries under authoritarian rule.

Citizen Lab, an independent watchdog group that worked with WhatsApp to identify the hacking targets, said on Tuesday at least 100 of the victims were civil society figures such as journalists and dissidents, not criminals.

John Scott-Railton, a senior researcher at Citizen Lab, said it was not surprising that foreign officials would be targeted as well.

“It is an open secret that many technologies branded for law enforcement investigations are used for state-on-state and political espionage,” Scott-Railton said.

Prior to notifying victims, WhatsApp checked the target list against existing law enforcement requests for information relating to criminal investigations, such as terrorism or child exploitation cases. But the company found no overlap, said a person familiar with the matter. Governments can submit such requests for information to WhatsApp through an online portal the company maintains.

WhatsApp has said it sent warning notifications to affected users earlier this week. The company has declined to comment on the identities of NSO Group’s clients, who ultimately chose the targets.

REUTERS

New Zealand PM Ardern steps up fight against extremist online content with more funding

PM, Jacinda Ardern

 

The attack on March 15 that killed 51 Muslim worshippers was livestreamed on Facebook, and the video was shared on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook-owned apps Whatsapp and Instagram.

Ardern said the government was investing NZ$17 million ($10.73 million) over four years to boost New Zealand’s ability to find, stop and stamp out terrorist and violent extremist content online quickly.

The investment would be used to double the investigative, forensic, intelligence and prevention work of the Department of Internal Affairs, she announced at a press conference.

A new team of 17 people will be dedicated to tackling such content, the government in a statement.

The new department’s powers include investigating and prosecuting those committing offences through both proactive detection and working with international and domestic partners, it added.

“Our online world must be a force for good where we can exchange ideas, share technology, and maintain civil liberties, while protecting New Zealanders from objectionable content,” Ardern said in the statement.

“Countering violent extremism online is an important part of our response to the March 15 terrorist attacks,” she added.

Silicon Valley tech giants and world leaders have endorsed a movement by Ardern called “Christchurch Call” which aims to establish ethical standards for tech companies and media outlets to avoid amplifying violent extremist content online.

Their commitment was tested last week as social media firms scrambled to scrub footage of a shooting outside a German synagogue that was livestreamed on Amazon’s gaming subsidiary Twitch.

As with Christchurch, full copies and portions of the German video quickly began appearing elsewhere online, shared both by supporters of the gunman’s anti-Semitic ideology and critics condemning his actions.

Ardern said in a press conference later that the attack in Germany last week was another reminder of the threat of online extremism.