Spanish PM, Defense Minister hacked with Israeli NSO Pegasus
The announcement comes just weeks after Madrid faced accusations of being behind spyware attacks on Catalonia.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's phone was subjected to a cyberattack last year using Israeli Pegasus spyware, and data was stolen from the device, the government said Monday.
The hacking took place in May 2021 through the Israeli spyware, Felix Bolanos, the secretary of state of the Prime Minister's office, announced at a news conference. He also revealed that Defense Minister Margarita Robles' phone had been met with the same fate.
Israeli NSO Group's spyware, notorious for its usage in many cyberattacks around the world, helped authoritarian governments silence their opposition, journalists, human rights activists, and the heads of other states.
"We have no doubt that this is an illicit, unauthorized intervention," Bolanos said. "It comes from outside state organisms and it didn’t have judicial authorization."
The scandal involved the phones of about 50,000 targets, which included many prominent politicians, businessmen, activists, journalists, and opposition figures around the world.
The surveillance spyware has been used in such oppressive means that the European Union data agency recommended in February that it be banned from use in the region.
The Spanish government is under fire for using the spyware on the cellphones of dozens of people connected to the successionist movement in northeastern Catalonia between 2017 and 2020. This put Madrid under a lot of pressure to explain why this had happened and sparked disapproval from its citizens alongside those of the Catalonia region.
At 65 people are involved, including elected officials, lawyers, and activists. The spyware gives the hacker access to the users' data, such as their messages, contacts, and images, even allowing the hacker to eavesdrop on their calls.
The regional Catalan government has accused the Spanish National Intelligence Center, or CNI, of spying on separatists, declaring the suspension of relations with national authorities until Madrid offered full explanations and punished all those responsible.
In December, it was found that Pegasus was also used to hack the iOS devices of 11 US State Department employees. The targets were either based in Uganda or focused on matters concerning Kampala.
Ahead of the discovery, the United States placed "Israel's" spyware maker NSO Group, the corporation behind the notorious Pegasus, on its list of restricted companies.
The FBI had previously confirmed to The Guardian that it had obtained access to the controversial spyware that put the Israeli occupation under fire, Pegasus, in 2019, claiming that the purpose of such purchase was only to test the product and evaluate it.