Nov 8, 2021 - World

NSO spyware found on 6 Palestinian activists’ phones, report finds

The NSO Group logo on a building in Herzliya, Israel. Photo: Jack Guez/AFP via Getty Images

The NSO Group logo on a building in Herzliya, Israel. Photo: Jack Guez/AFP via Getty Images

Spyware from the Israeli intelligence company NSO Group was found on the cellphones of six Palestinian human rights activists, Front Line Defenders, an Ireland-based rights groups, said in a report Monday.

Why it matters: It's the first reported instance of Palestinian activists being targeted by the military-grade Pegasus spyware, AP notes.

  • The report comes a week after the U.S. government added NSO and Candiru, another Israeli cyber intelligence company, to a black list of companies engaging in activities contrary to U.S. national security interests.
  • The Commerce Department said its decision was based on evidence that both companies developed and supplied spyware to foreign governments that in turn used it "to maliciously target government officials, journalists, businesspeople, activists, academics, and embassy workers."

The big picture: It is unclear how the spyware got on the Palestinian activists' phones. According to Front Line Defenders, some of the activists targeted work for three of the six Palestinian human rights groups that Israel declared "terrorist" organizations last month in a move that prompted international criticism.

  • The Palestinian groups called on the United Nations to investigate the Front Line Defender report's findings, which were independently confirmed by researchers at Amnesty International and the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab.
  • "We don't have evidence. We can't accuse a certain party since we don't have yet enough information about who carried out that action," Sahar Francis, director of prisoner rights group Addameer, said at a news conference on Monday, per Reuters.
  • "The United Nations is responsible for human rights and for protecting human rights and they have a responsibility to launch such an investigation to make sure that countries don't exploit these software to repress human rights advocates," Francis added.

The NSO Group said in an emailed statement it cannot "confirm or deny the identity of our government customers" due to "contractual and national security considerations."

  • "As we stated in the past, NSO Group does not operate the products itself; the company license approved government agencies to do so, and we are not privy to the details of individuals monitored," it added.

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