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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 Amnesty International is launching legal action to get NSO Group's export license withdrawn in Israel.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

Updated 32 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus cases hold steady at 65,000 per day — CDC declares racism "a serious public health threat" — WHO official: Brazil is dealing with "raging inferno" of a COVID outbreak
  2. Vaccines: America may be close to hitting a vaccine wall — Pfizer asks FDA to expand COVID vaccine authorization to adolescents — CDC says Johnson & Johnson vaccine supply will drop 80% next week.
  3. Economy: Treasury says over 156 million stimulus payments sent out since March — More government spending expected as IMF projects 6% global GDP growth.
  4. Politics: Supreme Court ends California's coronavirus restrictions on home religious meetings
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.

Second senior Matt Gaetz aide resigns amid federal investigation

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) walking out of the Capitol in January 2021. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Devin Murphy, Rep. Matt Gaetz's legislative director, has stepped down amid a federal investigation into sex trafficking allegations against the Florida Republican congressman, the New York Times first reported and Axios has confirmed.

The latest: "It's been real," Murphy wrote in an email, obtained by Axios, to Republican legislative directors on Saturday morning, with the subject line: "Well...bye."

Rep. Dan Crenshaw says he'll be blind for a month after eye surgery

Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) in Washington, D.C., in December 2020. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) said in a statement Saturday he will be blind for roughly a month after getting surgery to reattach the retina in left eye.

Why it matters: Crenshaw, who lost his right eye and sustained severe damage to his left eye during his third deployment to Afghanistan in 2012, said he will be "pretty much off the grid for the next few weeks."

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