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NSO Pegasus Spyware Used to Attack Human Rights Watch Activist

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Photo: Amir Levy / Stringer (Getty Images)

Spyware developed by Israeli recruitment company NSO Group has reportedly been used to spy on people. for now Other member civil society, this time targeting a senior member of Human Rights Watch. This revelation comes despite the NSO’s own rules against surveillance of activists or journalists, and comes less than 24 hours after another. report detailing the use of the Pegasus software to attack a Polish politician and author.

In the first case, Human Rights Watch claims Lama Fakih, h.head of the organization’s Beirut office and cheight andconflict director, was attacked at least five times between April and August last year. Faqih regularly works to investigate human rights violations, international crimes and armed conflicts around the world., according to HRW—factors that they believe may have prompted security forces or intelligence agencies working on behalf of the state government to target her. HRW did not specify which country the attacks may have come from and did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment.

“The news was stunning,” said Fakih. interview. “I felt fear and distrust. There are a million thoughts running through your head. Why am I targeted in this way and how? What government did this? What does this mean for my safety and the safety of anyone whose data may have been compromised in the attack?”

V tweet, Faqih showed a screenshot notification she wrote to Apple, informing her that she may have been the target of a government-sponsored attacker. Although other versions of the Pegasus software use text messages embedded in malicious links to gain access to the target’s device, Fakih said she was the victim of a “zero-click attack” that could infect the device without the target ever clicking the link. OOnce the target is successfully infected, the NSO Pegasus software allows the end user to view the target’s photos, documents, and even encrypted messages without the target’s knowledge.

“It is no accident that governments use spyware to attack activists and journalists, the very people who expose their abuses,” Faqih said in a statement. “They seem to believe that in this way they can consolidate power, stifle dissent and protect their manipulation of facts.”

Following Apple’s warning, HRW said it had conducted a forensic examination and determined that both Faqih’s current and previous phones were affected.

The NSO Group did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment. but in statement provided by HRW, the Israeli firm said it had no knowledge of any of its clients using its services to attack HRW employees.

“Any such use against such an employee, or any other person for that matter, would be a serious misuse of our technology unless there was a reasonable suspicion that such person was involved in a serious crime or terrorist activity,” the NSO wrote.

Over its 11-year history, NSO Group spyware has repeatedly been used to attack journalists, human rights activists and defenders, children, and even some political leaders. While this appears to be the first time a foreign NGO has used the Pegasus in Lebanon, others including the head of the New York Times bureau in Beirut, had previously been attacked by spyware.

Things are going from bad to worse for the NSO

While allegations of dubious spying campaigns are nothing new to the company, some dubbed “immoral mercenaries of the 21st century,” a recent salvo came amid a wave of scandal that has reportedly forced the NSO battle for survival.

Last week a report v Calcalist claimed that the Israeli government was using NSO spyware to spy on domestic protest leaders and anti-government activists since 2013. If true, it would mark a landmark exit for the company. who managed to avoid participating in domestic espionage. Israeli Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai has since confirmed law enforcement make use third party cyber technology but declined to name any services. Attorney General of Israel afterwards launched an investigation into the Israeli police over the alleged use of the technology.

On Tuesday, after a scandalous week, former NSO commissioner Asher Levy announced he will step down from his position less than two years after taking office. Levy tried to downplay the connection between his resignation and news of domestic espionage.Associated Press, his departure was scheduled months ago.

“I can understand why people connect,” Levy told AP. “It really has nothing to do with, so to speak, the latest news around the NSO.”

Another Haaretz report, filed just hours after Levy’s resignation, alleged that the NSO was in preliminary talks with U.S. venture capital firm Integrity Partners about a deal to acquire control of NSO. According to the report, this plan will include severing ties with the vast majority of NSO’s 37 clients and leaving them to work only with New Zealand, the US, Australia, the UK, and Canada are members of the so-called Five Eyes intelligence alliance.. The new company will reportedly focus primarily on defensive cyber capabilities. Under Integrity will reportedly be lobbying the US government to remove the NSO from the US blacklist. added until the end of last year.

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