Palestinian activists’ phones hacked by NSO’s Pegasus spyware

The mobile phones of six Palestinian rights activists connected to a recent Israeli declaration by six Palestinian NGOs as terrorist groups were hacked by NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware, Front Line Defenders, Amnesty International and the security watchdog of the United States said on Monday. Internet Citizen Lab.

The new findings followed NSO’s blacklisting last week by the US Department of Commerce amid allegations that its spyware targeted journalists, rights activists and government officials in several countries.

Furthermore, the announcement comes at a time when there is an ongoing public relations struggle over whether the six Palestinian NGOs are human rights groups or have been operating in a combination of human rights and terror activities in conjunction with the terrorist group PFLP.

There was a clear move by Front Line Defenders, Amnesty and Citizen Lab collectively to build the connection with the NSO and try to further undermine Israel’s campaign against Palestinian NGOs.

It was unclear whether the Israeli government or any third party working with the Israeli government had used NSO’s technology against the six Palestinians, which would be an unusual case of NSO’s technology being used within the West Bank on cell phones that are part of the great Israeli. telecom umbrella (NSO has generally said that it only sells to foreign customers).

Israel and Palestinian activists at Al-Haq’s office in Ramallah on October 27, 2021 gather to protest the terrorist designation of six Palestinian NGOs. (credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)

NSO, which expressed its dismay at the US blacklist movement, conducts its exports of cyber products under the supervision of the Ministry of Defense.

The Defense Ministry did not immediately comment on the new findings, but has defended NSO vehemently in Israeli courts and before foreign governments, such as France.

A spokesperson for the NSO Group responded: “Due to contractual and national security considerations, we are unable to confirm or deny the identity of our government clients. As we have said in the past, NSO Group does not operate the products themselves; the company’s license approved government agencies to do so, and we are not aware of the details of the people monitored. “

“NSO Group develops critical technologies for use by law enforcement and intelligence agencies around the world to defend the public from serious crime and terror. These technologies are vital for governments against the platforms that criminals and terrorists use to communicate without interruption, ”added the spokesperson.

London-based Amnesty and Toronto’s Citizen Lab said they had independently confirmed that Pegasus had been used to hack into the phones of Palestinian activists, after Front Line Defenders, an international rights group, began collecting data in October. about the alleged hack.

Three of the six people work for Palestinian rights groups that Israel designated as terrorist organizations last month, saying they had funneled donor aid to militants. Israel-appointed groups have denied the allegations, some of which are based on harsh interrogations by the Shin Bet.

While Israel’s supporters view confessions in such interrogations as a way to save lives, critics doubt the veracity of such interrogations.

Without blaming Israel for the alleged hacking, some of the groups whose workers had allegedly been targeted demanded an international investigation.

“We have no evidence. We cannot prosecute a certain party because we still do not have enough information on who carried out that action,” Sahar Francis, director of the Addameer Organization, told a news conference in Ramallah.

“The United Nations is responsible for human rights and protecting human rights and has a responsibility to initiate such an investigation to ensure that countries do not exploit this software to crack down on human rights defenders,” said Francis .

Israel has for years used mobile phone surveillance to track and thwart Palestinian terrorist attacks, especially since the 2015-2016 Knife Intifada.

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