Pegasus: What you need to know about Israeli spyware | Spy Cable News

Pegasus, spyware created by Israeli tech firm NSO Group, is making headlines again after it was reported Israeli police were using it to spy on dozens of its own citizens – including senior officials government officials and protesters who rallied against former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The report brought back a months-long international scandal at the world’s most infamous hacking firm, following reports that it was used by governments around the world to spy on activists, journalists and even heads of state.

What is Pegasus? What does it do?

NSO Group, founded in 2010, describes itself on its website as creating “technology that helps government agencies prevent and investigate terrorism and crime to save thousands of lives around the world.”

Pegasus is spyware that can infiltrate a mobile phone and collect personal and location data, and can control the phone’s microphones and cameras without the user’s knowledge or permission.

Some of the information Pegasus has access to includes photos, web searches, passwords, call logs, communications, and social media posts.

Spyware is designed to circumvent detection and hide its activity.

Researchers have found several examples of sophisticated NSO Group tools using so-called zero-click exploits that infect targeted mobile phones without any user interaction.

This means that a successful spyware attack on a phone only requires an installed operating system or a particular vulnerable application.

Who was targeted?

A survey conducted by 17 news agencies on more than 50,000 issues was published by the Parisian journalism association Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International. He revealed that more than 1,000 people in 50 countries have reportedly been selected by NSO clients for potential surveillance since 2016.

This list includes 189 journalists, more than 600 politicians and government officials, and several heads of state, including Frenchman Emmanuel Macron, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Among the journalists are employees of Al Jazeera, The Associated Press, Reuters, CNN, The Wall Street Journal, Le Monde and the Financial Times.

At least 65 business leaders and 85 human rights activists around the world have also been targeted.

The media consortium reports that most Pegasus customers were clustered in 10 countries: Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Hungary, India, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

What was the reaction?

In a statement released after the report was published, Amnesty International Secretary General Agnès Callamard rejected NSO’s claims that its technology is used for law enforcement work.

“The NSO Group can no longer hide behind the claim that its spyware is only used to fight crime – it looks like Pegasus is also the spyware of choice for those wishing to spy on foreign governments”, Callamard said.

Watchdog group The Citizen Lab said the proliferation of Pegasus among countries with a history of human rights abuses “paints a bleak picture of the human rights risks” of those targeted.

In July 2021, the Paris prosecutor’s office opened an investigation into allegations that Moroccan intelligence services spied on several French journalists. Morocco has denied the allegations.

Last November, the US Commerce Department blacklisted the NSO Group, barring it from access to American technology after it said its tools had been used to “carry out transnational repression”.

Apple later sued the company, calling it “the amoral mercenaries of the 21st century”.

Facebook is suing NSO Group in US federal court for allegedly targeting some 1,400 WhatsApp users.

Lawsuits were also filed in 2018 in Israel and Cyprus by journalists from Al Jazeera, as well as other Qatari, Mexican and Saudi journalists and activists who claim the company’s spyware was used to hack their devices.

What did the ONS say?

NSO has denied wrongdoing and said it does not identify its customers.

It maintains that its products are intended for use against criminals and “terrorists”, and that it only sells its products to state security agencies with the approval of the Israeli Ministry of Defense.

He described the media report as “full of faulty assumptions and unsubstantiated theories”.

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