Bahrain Used Pegasus to Spy on Human Rights Activists
Canadian Citizen Lab Institute reveals that Pegasus was found on the smartphones of nine activists from three different organizations in Bahrain.
Canadian Citizen Lab Institute revealed that the Bahraini regime used Israeli NSO’s Pegasus spyware to spy on nine human rights activists from three different Bahraini organizations. The attacks took place between June 2020 and February 2021, and the Institute mentioned the full names of some of the victims, while for others, it only provided the name of the organization to which they belong.
Human rights organizations attacked
One of the organizations attacked is Waad that is dubbed as a political movement, only because political parties are banned in Bahrain. The second is the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), while the third is al-Wefaq, which is a persecuted political movement in Bahrain that has repeatedly faced false accusations, including allegations of “terrorist activities”.
Two of the espionage victims live in voluntary exile in London, a fact that has high diplomatic sensitivity due to the fact that European countries are not so fond of using such spy tools on their soil, according to the newspaper The Marker today, Wednesday.
One-click vs. zero-click features
It seems that in an attack carried out last year, NSO used a one-click feature, whereby the victim has to click on a link for the spyware to hack the phone. Later on, the Israeli company developed zero-click espionage tools that enable the hacking of the smartphone without any effort (a click) on the victim’s part.
BlastDoor protection software cracked
Citizen Lab estimates reveal that the one-click feature is part of new security software BlastDoor that Apple has integrated into iOS to make it difficult to access phones without having to press on a link. Despite Apple's security enhancement step, according to Citizen Lab, the victims received fraudulent text messages from DHL and their cell phone companies with links to press on.
Evidently, this protection did not last long, and as of February 2021, Israeli NSO has been using a new zero-click weakness that bypasses the BlastDoor feature.
NSO's claims of no responsibility
Five phone numbers of the nine attacked were on the list of 50,000 numbers exposed on the Pegasus project, despite Israeli NSO’s denial and its claims that it has nothing to do with this.
However, the Institute considered that there is a link between former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visits to different countries of the world and the sale of cyberweapons developed by NSO to those countries, which constitutes further evidence that NSO is indeed selling cyber weapons to dictatorial states such as Saudi Arabia and Azerbaijan, casting shadows of doubt on the use of such tools.
On its part, NSO demanded Citizen Lab to release the information it claims to have, considering that without such information, all this would be nothing but third-party rumors with no real connection to NSO. Moreover, NSO said that Citizen Lab has once again recycled information lacking any technological logic, rendering the use of life-saving technology impossible.
Bahrain's infamy for suppression
It is worth mentioning that Bahrain has a long history of suppressing the opposition forces through arbitrary arrests, torture, and even death sentences. Freedom House Organization asserts that the Bahraini citizens do not enjoy any freedom and that the press is persecuted. Since 2010, Bahrain has been using offensive cyber programs developed by various companies for espionage and repression.
In 2017, there were reports that offensive NSO cyber programs were sold to Bahrain, but nowadays there are actual talks about an ongoing comprehensive investigation into the widespread use of such programs, which are regarded as a weapon.