Alleged Pegasus phone-tapping list includes phones of at least 14 heads of state

Emmanuel Macron

AT LEAST FOURTEEN CURRENT or former heads of state, including presidents, prime ministers, and one king, are included in a list of 50,000 telephone numbers that were allegedly compromised through a controversial surveillance software. Known as Pegasus, the controversial spyware is marketed by NSO Group Technologies, an Israeli digital surveillance company based in near Tel Aviv.

Pegasus is able to install itself on targeted telephones without requiring their users to click a link, or download an application. Upon installation, it provides the spying party with near-complete control of a targeted telephone. This includes the ability to browse through the device’s contents, such as photographs and videos, record conversations, as well as activate the telephone’s built-in microphone and camera at any time, without its user’s consent or knowledge.

Earlier this week, a consortium of newspapers from several countries said they had analyzed a leaked list of 50,000 victims of Pegasus, which allegedly includes the names of senior government officials, lawyers, labor leaders, human-rights activists and investigative journalists in almost every country. New in a new report, The Washington Post, which participated in the initial investigation into Pegasus, claims that the leaked list contains the names of 14 current or former heads of state.

According to the newspaper, the list contains telephone devices belonging to three presidents, France’s Emmanuel Macron (pictured), South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa, and Iraq’s Barham Salih. The telephone devices of three current prime ministers are also on the list, says The Post. These are, Morocco’s Saad-Eddine El Othmani, Egypt’s Mostafa Madboul, and Pakistan’s Imran Khan.

Also on the list are three former prime ministers, who were in office when they were allegedly targeted by Pegasus users: France’s Édouard Philippe, Belgium’s Charles Michel, Italy’s Romano Prodi, Lebanon’s Saad Hariri, Kazakhstan’s Bakitzhan Sagintayev, Uganda’s Ruhakana Rugunda, Algeria’s Noureddine Bedoui, and Yemen’s Ahmed Obeid bin Daghr. A telephone number belonging to the king of Morocco, Mohammed VI, is also reportedly on the list. Finally, the list allegedly includes several senior officials of international organizations, including the head of the World Health Organization, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The Post report also includes part of a statement by NSO Group Technologies, in which the company says it keeps tabs on the use of its software by its clients, and has the power to block any misuse of Pegasus. The company also states that it intends to “continue to investigate all credible claims of misuses [of Pegasus] and take appropriate action” if needed, including “shutting down of a customers’ system”, which it has done “multiple times in the past and will not hesitate to do again if a situation warrants”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 July 2021 | Permalink

France launches probe into spying on media by Moroccan intelligence services

NSO Group

PROSECUTORS IN FRANCE HAVE opened an investigation into claims that the intelligence services of Morocco spied on French journalists’ phones, using a controversial surveillance software marketed by an Israeli firm. Since 2018, IntelNews has covered the controversial spyware, Pegasus, and its maker, NSO Group Technologies, an Israeli digital surveillance company based in Herzliya, a small coastal town located north of Tel Aviv.

The Pegasus surveillance software is able to install itself on targeted telephones without requiring their users clicking a link, or downloading an application. It then provides the spying party with near-complete control over the targeted telephone. Among other things, it gives the spying party the ability to browse through the telephone’s contents, including photographs and videos, record telephone conversations, as well as activate the telephone’s built-in microphone and camera at any time, without its user being aware that these devices are on.

Earlier this week, an investigative report published by a consortium of newspapers, including The Washington Post (United States), Le Monde (France) and The Guardian (United Kingdom), claimed that Pegasus’ victims number in their tens of thousands. Reporters said they had analyzed a leaked list of 50,000 victims of Pegasus, which include senior government officials, lawyers, labor leaders, human-rights activists and investigative journalists in almost every country in the world.

The recent revelations have made headlines in France, where the names of well-known journalists from several newspapers, magazines and news agencies feature on the leaked list of Pegasus’ victims. On Tuesday, the French investigative website Mediapart filed a legal complaint, claiming that two members of its staff, including its founder, Edwy Plenel, had been spied on by the Moroccan intelligence services through the Pegasus software. Another French investigative outlet, the newspaper Le Canard Enchaine, said it would also launch a complaint against the intelligence services of Morocco. More media outlets are expected to follow suit.

NSO Group Technologies denies that its Pegasus software is being used maliciously, and claims that it only sells the software to government agencies who use it in legitimate law enforcement investigations. The government of Morocco also denied the claims against its intelligence agencies, saying that it “never acquired computer software to infiltrate communication devices”.

However, the Office of the Paris Prosecutor said on Tuesday that it had launched an official investigation on the use of the Pegasus software by Moroccan intelligence. In a statement published on its website, the prosecutor’s office said it would examine the complaints by media companies from the perspective of as many as 10 possible charges, including criminal association, fraudulent access to personal electronic devices, and breach of personal privacy.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 July 2021 | Permalink

Catalan pro-independence leader’s phone hacked using Israeli spy software

Roger TorrentThe personal smartphones of leading Catalan pro-independence politicians were hacked using a highly invasive software built by a controversial Israeli firm, according to an investigative report by two newspapers. The revelation is likely to reignite a tense row between Madrid and pro-independence activists in one of the country’s wealthiest regions, which led to a major political crisis in 2017.

An estimated 50 percent of the population of the autonomous Spanish region of Catalonia wishes to secede from Spain. However, Madrid refused to recognize the legitimacy of an independence referendum organized by secessionist activists in 2017. The stalemate led to massive protests throughout the country, which were marred by violence and thousands of arrests, as Spain faced its deepest political crisis since the 1970s. In response to the protests, the central government suspended Catalonia’s autonomous status and arrested many of the independent movement’s leaders. Many of them have been given lengthy jail terms, while others remain abroad and are wanted by the Spanish government for promoting insurrection.

On Monday, British newspaper The Guardian and Spanish newspaper El País revealed the results of a joint investigation, according to which the smartphones of senior Catalan pro-independence politicians were targeted by hackers in 2019, and possibly even earlier. Among them was Roger Torrent, who serves as the speaker of the Parliament of Catalonia. The newspapers said he had been alerted to the hacking by cybersecurity employees of WhatsApp, a Facebook-owned company whose application was allegedly used by the hackers to take control of Torrent’s phone.

The software that was allegedly used to hack the Catalan politicians’ phones was Pegasus. It was built by NSO Group, an Israeli software development company that specializes in surveillance technologies. According to WhatsApp, which sued NSO Group in 2019, NSO Group specifically developed the Pegasus hacking platform to enable its users to exploit flaws in WhatsApp’s servers and to gain access to the telephone devices of targeted individuals. Pegasus allegedly allows its users to covertly operate a compromised phone’s camera and microphone. Read more of this post

WhatsApp sues Israeli firm for enabling spy attacks on 1,400 users worldwide

NSO GroupThe Facebook-owned company WhatsApp has filed a lawsuit against a leading Israeli technology firm, accusing it of enabling governments around the world to spy on 1,400 high-profile users, including politicians and diplomats. The Reuters news agency said it spoke to “people familiar” with the investigation into the spy scandal, which it says was launched “earlier this year”.

What is interesting about the case, says Reuters, is that a “significant” proportion of the hundreds of WhatsApp users who were targeted by governments worldwide are “high profile” officials. The victims reportedly serve in various government agencies, including the armed forces, of at least 20 countries on five continents. They allegedly include politicians, diplomats, military officers, academics, journalists, lawyers and human-rights activists in countries such as the United States, India, Mexico, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan.

WhatsApp alleges that the spy activities against these individuals were enabled by NSO Group, an Israeli software development company that specializes in surveillance technologies. The Facebook-owned company alleges that NSO Group specifically developed a hacking platform that allows its users to exploit flaws in WhatsApp’s servers in order to gain access to the telephone devices of targeted individuals. At least 1,400 of WhatsApp’s users had their telephones compromised between April 29 and May 10, 2019, says WhatsApp.

NSO Group, whose clientele consists exclusively of government agencies worldwide, denies any wrongdoing. The company claims that its products are designed to “help governments catch terrorists and criminals”, says Reuters. But WhatsApp and Citizen Lab, a research initiative based at the University of Toronto, which worked with WhatsApp on the NGO Group case, claim that at least 100 of the 1,400 victims were news journalists, political activists and the lawyers who defend them. There was no overlap between ongoing criminal or terrorism investigations and those targeted by NSO Group’s software, they claim.

The names on the list of espionage victims are not known. But Reuters said that, depending on how high-profile the victims are, the WhatsApp-NSO Group spy scandal could have worldwide political and diplomatic consequences.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 01 November 2019 | Permalink

Saudi state spies on dissidents in Canada using software built by Israeli firm

Embassy of Saudi Arabia in CanadaThe government of Saudi Arabia is spying on expatriate dissidents in Canada using commercially available software designed by an Israeli company, according to researchers at the University of Toronto. This is alleged in a new report published on Monday by the Citizen Lab, a research unit of the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, which focuses on information technology, international security and human rights. The report’s authors say they have “high confidence” that intrusive surveillance software is being deployed to target the electronic communications of Saudi dissidents, including Omar Abdulaziz, a Saudi activist who has been living in Canada’s Quebec province for nearly 10 years.

Abdulaziz, 27, arrived in Canada on a student visa in 2009. In 2014, having publicly voiced criticisms of the Saudi royal family and Saudi Arabia’s repressive political system, and having been threatened by Saudi authorities, Abdulaziz successfully applied for political asylum in Canada. In 2017 he was granted permanent residency status. For the past eight years, Abdulaziz has become increasingly vocal in his criticism of the Saudi government, mostly through his satirical channel on YouTube. The channel, called Yakathah, has over 120,000 subscribers and its content has angered Saudi authorities. The latter have warned Abdulaziz’s parents and last summer arrested two of his brothers, in what he describes as attempts to silence him.

Researchers from Citizen Lab claim that the Saudi government has been targeting expatriate dissidents such as Abdulaziz using various techniques, such as sending them spyware-infested messages that express support for anti-government demonstrations in Saudi Arabia. The report also notes that these messages make use of Pegasus, a surveillance software system that has been previously implicated in surveillance activities against political dissidents from Gulf countries. The software was designed by NSO Group Technologies, an Israeli digital surveillance company based in Herzliya, a small coastal town located north of Tel Aviv.

The Citizen Lab report comes at a time of heightened tensions in relations between Canada and Saudi Arabia. In August, Canada’s Global Affairs Ministry issued sharp criticisms of the Saudi government’s human rights record, while Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said she was “gravely concerned” about the suppression of political speech in the Kingdom. She also urged the Saudi government to release a number of jailed political activists and stop censoring Saudi women activists seeking gender equality. But her comments enraged the Saudi royal family, which controls the Kingdom. Within days, the Saudi government expelled Canada’s ambassador from Riyadh and restricted its economic ties with Canada. The Kingdom also recalled several thousand Saudi students who were studying in Canadian universities on Saudi government scholarships.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 02 October 2018 | Permalink