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Photo: Carsten Rehder/picture alliance via Getty Images

WhatsApp has identified an "advanced security flaw" in its messaging service that allowed hackers to install spyware onto phones, the Facebook-owned company confirmed Monday, as it urged its 1.5 billion users to update the latest app version.

Why matters: The Financial Times first reported the vulnerability was developed by NSO Group. The Israeli security firm has been accused of supplying tools for spying on rights groups and journalists, including the slain Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Amnesty International is launching legal action to get NSO Group's export license withdrawn in Israel. NSO Group denies any wrongdoing.

Details: WhatsApp told the BBC its security team first identified the flaw and shared details with rights groups, the Department of Justice and others this month. Phones became infected with sophisticated spyware via a missed in-app call.

The big picture: The company said the issue affected a "select number of users" and the fix was rolled out Friday, per the BBC.

"The attack has all the hallmarks of a private company reportedly that works with governments to deliver spyware that takes over the functions of mobile phone operating systems."
— WhatsApp briefing note to journalists.

The other side: NSO Group said in a statement to media outlets the company was investigating the issue. "Under no circumstances would NSO be involved in the operating or identifying of targets of its technology, which is solely operated by intelligence and law enforcement agencies," it said.

Go deeper

Journalism enters dangerous new era

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The Capitol attack on Jan. 6 resulted in at least nine physical assaults against journalists and at least five arrests, per the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker's top editor.

Why it matters: President Trump's harsh rhetoric towards the press has empowered leaders abroad and locally in the U.S. to continue to attack press that they don't like.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

The beginning of the beginning for Biden's climate push

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Joe Biden's inauguration and the days right after will bring a rat-tat-tat burst of climate policy moves, but keep this in mind amid the splashy pledges: pushing through most of his agenda will be a long, uncertain slog.

Why it matters: Biden's climate plan is far more expansive than anything contemplated under President Obama. But for all the immediate pledges, it will take years to see how far Biden gets.

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets
3 hours ago - Economy & Business

Biden's inflation danger

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

President-elect Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion stimulus proposal has economists and bullish market analysts revising their U.S. growth expectations higher, predicting a reflation of the economy in 2021 and possibly more booming returns for risk assets.

Yes, but: Others are warning that what's expected to be reflation could actually show up as inflation, a much less welcome phenomenon.

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