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19 Jul, 2021 16:25

Liberals in Israeli coalition govt challenge Defense Ministry over reports NSO malware was used to monitor reporters and activists

Liberals in Israeli coalition govt challenge Defense Ministry over reports NSO malware was used to monitor reporters and activists

The head of Israel’s Meretz party, part of the country’s governing coalition, has demanded the Defense Ministry answer questions about the export of NSO spyware and its use to hack the phones of reporters and activists.

Nitzan Horowitz, who leads the Meretz party and serves as Israel’s health minister, informed reporters on Monday that he will meet with the country’s defense minister, Benny Gantz, on Thursday to discuss the distribution of the NSO spyware, known as Pegasus.

On Sunday, over a dozen media outlets jointly reported that more than 50,000 activists, lawyers and journalists have been targeted by governments globally through the spyware, sold to them by the Israeli surveillance company NSO. 

The leaked list of those affected was obtained by French media outlet Forbidden Stories and human rights group Amnesty International. The Security Lab at Amnesty examined some of the devices of people named on the list and found that, out of 67 phones analysed, 23 had been infected and there was evidence of an attempted infection on 14 others.

Initially, the Pegasus malware infected phones through text messages or emails by convincing the target to click a malicious link, in a manner known as spear-phishing. However, it is now believed to be able to infect phones through ‘zero-click’ attacks that exploit vulnerabilities in the phone’s operating system. Once it has infected a device, the malware can reportedly extract files and information, ranging from SMS messages to call records to internet browsing histories.

Also on rt.com Journos, ministers, Khashoggi’s son & a ruler’s family on list of 50,000 possible targets for Israeli spyware Pegasus – reports

Alongside Horowitz’s request for the Defense Ministry to provide information on its NSO exports, Meretz lawmaker Mossi Raz urged the government to immediately halt distribution of the software, which he called “exporting weaponry.” 

After the call for answers from Horowitz, the Defense Ministry said in a statement cited by Reuters that NSO software was exported for lawful use and “appropriate measures are taken” where cyber products are used in violation of their licenses.

As well as domestic condemnation, the allegations about the spyware have been condemned internationally. European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen said that, if true, the reported use of the spyware is “completely unacceptable,” adding that “free press is one of the core values of the European Union.”

The NSO Group “firmly denies” the “false claims” made by the Guardian and its reporting partners for the story, arguing that they are simply “uncorroborated theories” that were “based on misleading interpretation of leaked data from accessible and overt basic information.”

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