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WhatsUpp with Commercial Hacking Tools in Government Hands?

WhatsUpp with Commercial Hacking Tools in Government Hands?

If you're like 1.5 billion other people on the planet – or if you are Jared Kushner – you conduct a lot of your personal or business conversations on WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned messaging app that says it's largely impervious to snoopers, hackers, and spooks.

But according to a bombshell report in The Financial Times earlier this week, the app has long contained a critical flaw that's enabled hackers to tap into your smartphone just by placing a WhatsApp voice call to you.


The hack relied on a program written by the Israeli tech firm NSO, which designs powerful snooping tools for law enforcement and counterterrorism officials in the Middle East and "western countries."

But it appears that political dissidents, human rights activists, and even a lawyer filing a liability suit against NSO itself were targeted – the FT report doesn't say who the attackers were.

WhatsApp says the bug has been fixed as of Monday. But this story – in which a commercial hacking program sold to governments was used to violate people's privacy and snoop on dissidents –illustrates a few big political challenges that we've highlighted in discussions about cybersecurity.

Cyber-arms control is hard. Cyberweapons, being scripts of computer code, can be very hard to control and contain, even with close oversight of who gets to buy them.

Mission creep is easy. Companies like NSO say they sell these products only to police and counterterrorism officials – but once they are in government hands, they can be used (or sold, or stolen) for other purposes or by other parts of the state.

Liability is murky. Who should be held accountable here: NSO for developing a product that was used beyond its (presumably) stated intent? Or WhatsApp for failing to guarantee the security of its own platform?

Surveillance and espionage are hardly new. But never before has there been a device that contained as much data about your thoughts, habits, preferences, movements, and personal relationships as the device you're holding or reading right this second.

The upshot: With hackers, governments, and commercial developers all trying to figure out how best to crack into it – what are the rules of the game?

Khant Thaw Htoo is a young engineer who works in Eni's Sakura Tower office in the heart of Yangon. As an HSE engineer, he monitors the safety and environmental impact of onshore and offshore operations. He also looks out for his parents' well-being, in keeping with Myanmar's traditions.

Learn more about Khant in the final episode of the Faces of Eni series, which focuses on Eni's employees around the world.

Over the weekend, some 40,000 Russians braved subzero temperatures to turn out in the streets in support of imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. More than 3,000 protesters were arrested, and Navalny called on his followers to prepare for more action in the coming weeks.

But just who is Alexei Navalny, and how significant is the threat that he may pose to Vladimir Putin's stranglehold on power in Russia?

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take (part 1):

Ian Bremmer here, happy Monday. And have your Quick Take to start off the week.

Maybe start off with Biden because now President Biden has had a week, almost a week, right? How was it? How's he doing? Well, for the first week, I would say pretty good. Not exceptional, but not bad, not bad. Normal. I know everyone's excited that there's normalcy. We will not be excited there's normalcy when crises start hitting and when life gets harder and we are still in the middle of a horrible pandemic and he has to respond to it. But for the first week, it was okay.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Russian opposition leader Navalny in jail. Hundreds of thousands demonstrating across the country in Russia over well over 100 cities, well over 3000 arrested. And Putin responding by saying that this video that was put out that showed what Navalny said was Putin's palace that costs well over a billion dollars to create and Putin, I got to say, usually he doesn't respond to this stuff very quickly. Looked a little defensive, said didn't really watch it, saw some of it, but it definitely wasn't owned by him or owned by his relatives.

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Even as vaccines roll out around the world, COVID-19 is continuing to spread like wildfire in many places, dashing hopes of a return to normal life any time soon. Some countries, like Israel and the UK for instance, have been praised for their inoculation drives, while still recording a high number of new cases. It's clear that while inoculations are cause for hope, the pace of rollouts cannot keep up with the fast-moving virus. Here's a look at the countries that have vaccinated the largest percentages of their populations so far – and a snapshot of their daily COVID caseloads (7-day rolling average) in recent weeks.

The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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