Once installed on a phone, the software can extract all of the data that's already on the device (text messages, contacts, Global Positioning System location, email, browser history, etc) in addition to creating new data by using the phone's microphone and camera to record the user's surroundings and ambient sounds, according to a 2016 report by the New York Times. It also said the effort had "all the hallmarks" of a private company that works with governments to push spyware.
Complicating matters is that Pegasus is developed by Israeli-based NSO Group, a company known for selling such commercial spyware to governments and intelligence agencies. It has said that these calls usually disappear from the call logs.
The spokesman said WhatsApp, which has more than 1.5 billion users, immediately contacted Citizen Lab and human rights groups, quickly fixed the issue and pushed out a patch. He said WhatsApp also provided information to USA law enforcement officials to assist in their investigation.
"WhatsApp encourages people to upgrade to the latest version of our app, as well as keep their mobile operating system up to date, to protect against potential targeted exploits created to compromise information stored on mobile devices", a WhatsApp spokesperson said in a statement.
"We are constantly working alongside industry partners to provide the latest security enhancements to help protect our users".
Several alleged targets of the spyware, including a close friend of Khashoggi and several Mexican civil society figures, are now suing NSO in an Israeli court over the hacking. The lawyer, according to the report, is involved in a lawsuit against NSO brought by a group of Mexican journalists, government critics and a Saudi Arabian dissident. Its publicly stated goal is to help authorities fight terrorism and crime but it doesn't require much to imagine how it can be used for other purposes by other, less conscientious elements as well. The company does not operate the system, and after a rigorous licensing and vetting process, intelligence and law enforcement determine how to use the technology to support their public safety missions. "NSO would not or could not use its technology in its own right to target any person or organization".
Human rights organisation Amnesty International is behind legal action to revoke the NSO Group's export licence in Israel, after an Amnesty staff member was targeted last August by Pegasus.