Facebook has sued the Israeli hacker-for-hire company NSO Group for allegedly targeting some 1,400 users of its encrypted messaging service WhatsApp with highly sophisticated spyware.
It appears to be the first legal action of its kind, involving a nearly totally unregulated realm.
Facebook alleges in a federal lawsuit filed in California Tuesday that NSO Group violated federal computer crime law with an exploit that took advantage of a flaw in the popular communications program allowing a smartphone to be penetrated through missed calls alone.
NSO Group has been widely condemned for selling surveillance tools to repressive governments.
Facebook says it believes about 100 rights activists and journalists were targeted in the operation, which it discovered in May.
NSO Group did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
The Associated Press