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Revealed: Israeli military-grade spyware used to hack phones worldwide

The building housing the Israeli NSO Group, which has made the Pegasus spyware, is seen in Herzliya near Tel Aviv on 28 August 2016. (Photo by AFP)

An investigation reveals that an Israeli military-grade spyware has been used to hack dozens of smartphones across the world, whose numbers were listed on a thousands-strong list of designated targets.

The regime licensed its Pegasus spyware to numerous countries that, in turn, used the application to mine information from the phones, revealed the investigation that has been conducted by 17 news organizations, including The Washington Post.

The Post published the findings in a report on Saturday, saying the phones in question belonged to “journalists and activists.”

The hacked phones were on a list of more than 50,000 numbers based in countries known to spy on people, it said.

The list of the numbers was provided for the purpose of the investigation by the Paris-based nonprofit journalism body Hidden Stories and the UK-based human rights organization Amnesty International.

The targets, the investigation showed, included the fiancée of Jamal Khashoggi, one of the paper’s former columnists, who used to be an outspoken critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Khashoggi was murdered and dismembered at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in 2018 after entering the facility to obtain the papers he needed to marry the Turkish woman.

Bin Salman has acknowledged that the foul play took place under his watch. The CIA and others have also placed the responsibility for the murder squarely on his shoulders, saying it was carried out by a team that had been directly tasked by the Saudi Royal.

Also on Saturday, The New York Times revealed that Riyadh had deployed the software against those it considered persona non grata.

“NSO (the Israeli spyware firm developing the application) sold Pegasus to Saudi Arabia in 2017 and the kingdom used the spyware as part of a ruthless campaign to crush dissent inside the kingdom and to hunt down Saudi dissidents abroad,” The Times wrote.

The Times added that the Israeli regime has continued to allow and encourage cyber-surveillance companies to secretly work with the kingdom despite international condemnation of the murder.

‘Only used to spy on terrorists, criminals’

NSO Group, however, denied the findings of the investigation, alleging that it included “uncorroborated theories” based on “misleading interpretation of leaked data from accessible and overt basic information.”

It also claimed that the spyware was only used to spy on “terrorists and other criminals.”

The Israeli regime runs a hugely infamous spying program, whose reach it has been trying to extend as far as thousands of kilometers beyond the occupied territories.

The regime’s fingerprints have been found on countless murder and sabotage cases around the world. 

Tel Aviv has also secured notoriety for trying to have its spy apparatuses maintain an edge over their international counterparts.

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