NSO Group employees sue Facebook for blocking their private social media accounts

Existing and former employees of Israeli cyber security firm NSO Group have sued Facebook for blocking their personal Facebook and Instagram accounts abruptly without any prior notice and without offering any explanation for blocking their accounts.

In a suit filed in the District Court of Tel Aviv, the NSO Group employees alleged that Facebook blocked their private Facebook and Instagram accounts on the same day the social media giant filed a lawsuit against NSO Group, alleging that the cyber security firm infected around 1,400 targeted mobile devices with surveillance software after exploiting a critical vulnerability in WhatsApp.

In its lawsuit filed in October, Facebook alleged that NSO Group used Facebook's servers to initiate WhatsApp calls that secretly injected malicious code into target devices and then executed the codes to create a connection between the hijacked devices and its remote server. Once a connection was established, NSO Group caused target devices to download and install additional malware, including Pegasus, for the purpose of accessing data and communications.

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"Between approximately January 2018 and May 2019, Defendants created WhatsApp accounts that they used and caused to be used to send malicious code to Target Devices in April and May 2019. The accounts were created using telephone numbers registered in different counties, including Cyprus, Israel, Brazil, Indonesia, Sweden, and the Netherlands.

"Defendants reverse-engineered the WhatsApp app and developed a program to enable them to emulate legitimate WhatsApp network traffic in order to transmit malicious code—undetected—to Target Devices over WhatsApp servers. Defendants’ program was sophisticated, and built to exploit specific components of WhatsApp network protocols and code," the complaint read.

NSO Group employees allege Facebook committed a breach of privacy & violated their contract

According to NSO Group employees, the fact that Facebook decided to block private Facebook and Instagram accounts of people just because the company they work for was sued by the social media giant, contravene the provisions of their agreement with Facebook.

They said in their petition that Facebook can block user access to its social media platforms either temporarily or permanently only when a user has violated the terms of their mutual agreement. By choosing to abruptly ban their accounts, Facebook did not honour this provision in their mutual contract.

The employees also alleged that Facebook misused personal information in their social media profiles to identify them as existing or former employees of NSO Group and used the information to collectively block all of their social media accounts. By doing this, Facebook committed a breach of privacy under Israel's Privacy Protection Act, 1981.

"Blocking our private accounts is a harmful and unjust measure of Facebook against us. In addition, the knowledge that our personal information was searched and used bothers us very much," said the NSO Group employees in a statement released to the press.

"We are proud to be employees of NSO, an Israeli company of values, countless people worldwide owe their lives to our technology, we believe in the justice of our way and shall continue to act to assist governments across the globe to prevent crime and terror through the technology we are developing," they added.

Commenting on the lawsuit filed by NSO Group employees, Facebook said in a statement that it had only disabled relevant accounts after it found NSO Group's involvement in the malware infection campaign and that the suspension of these accounts "continue to be necessary for security reasons, including preventing additional attacks."

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