Six Palestinian Activists and Researchers Hacked by NSO Spyware: Pegasus
NSO's Pegasus spyware snowball continues to roll, revealing worrying data about the magnitude of hacks made using this malware, 6 Palestinian activists were among its latest victims.
According to security researchers, six Palestinian human rights activists' cellphones were found to have malware from the renowned Israeli hacker-for-hire organization NSO Group.
Half of the researchers are linked to organizations that "Israel's" security minister controversially alleged were involved in what he called terrorism last month, according to a report by AP.
The first documented incident of Palestinian activists being targeted by the military-grade Pegasus malware was revealed on Monday. Since 2015, it has been used against journalists, human rights activists, and political dissidents from Mexico to Saudi Arabia.
Intruders gain access to everything a person keeps and does on their phone, including real-time communications, monitoring the victim through his or her microphone or camera if a Pegasus infection is effective.
According to Mohammed al-Maskati of the NGO Frontline Defenders, the researcher who initially discovered the NSO malware on the activists' phones, it is unclear who installed it.
"Israel" has given little public evidence to substantiate Its claims
Israeli security Minister Benny Gantz declared six Palestinian civil society organizations terrorist organizations shortly after the first two incursions were discovered in mid-October. Frontline Defenders, located in Ireland, and at least two of the victims believe "Israel" is the major suspect, and that the designation was made to obscure the hacks' detection.
"Israel" has given little public evidence to substantiate what the occupation described as terrorism designation, which Palestinian groups say is intended to deprive them of funds and silence their opposition to Israeli military authority.
NEW - FLD Investigation finds Pegasus spyware on 6 Palestinian HRD phones - including HRDs from 3 of the #StandWithThe6 organizations targeted by Israel - read the report to understand the timing and the questions this raises for #Israel & #NSOGrouphttps://t.co/HjdstqgTm1 pic.twitter.com/NDV79ZBKTN— Front Line Defenders (@FrontLineHRD) November 8, 2021
Three of the Palestinians who were hacked work for civil society organizations. Frontline Defenders claim that the others do not and desire to remain nameless.
The forensic findings, which were independently confirmed by security researchers from Amnesty International and the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab in a joint technical report, come as NSO Group faces mounting criticism for the misuse of its spyware and "Israel" faces criticism for lax oversight of its digital surveillance industry.
The NSO Group and a lesser-known Israeli competitor, Candiru, were blacklisted by the Biden administration last week, preventing them from accessing US technology.
What is Pegasus?
According to an investigation led by The Washington Post and 16 media partners that were published on July 18, Pegasus is military-grade spyware leased by NSO to governments who used it in attempted and successful hacks of 37 smartphones belonging to journalists, human rights activists, and business executives.
Smartphones infected with Israeli spyware would become pocket-spying devices, allowing the user to read the target's messages, look through their photos, track their location, and even turn on their camera without their knowledge.
The investigation discovered that 37 targeted smartphones were found on a list of more than 50,000 numbers concentrated in countries known to engage in citizen surveillance and also known to have been clients of NSO Group.
The numbers on the list are unattributed, but via research and interviews on four continents, reporters were able to identify more than 1,000 people from more than 50 countries. Several members of the Gulf royal families, at least 65 corporate leaders, 85 human rights activists, 189 journalists, and over 600 politicians and government officials, including cabinet ministers, ambassadors, and military officers, have all been targeted.
More than 15,000 phone numbers on the list were in Mexico, including those belonging to lawmakers, union members, journalists, and other government adversaries.
A substantial number of people were found in West Asia, including Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Yemen, knowing that NSO clientele is said to include the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain. Other countries were also involved, according to the same report.