NSO Pegasus Spyware Can No Longer Target UK Phone Numbers | Monitoring


The powerful spyware used to hack the cell phones of Princess Haya and her divorce lawyer, Fiona Shackleton, is no longer effective against UK numbers, sources close to the software developer have said.

NSO Group, the Israeli maker of the Pegasus monitoring tool, implemented a change that prevented client countries from targeting +44 numbers, the sources said, after learning about the UK hacking scandal on August 5 of the last year.

“We came to a complete stop, hard-coded into the system [Pegasus], to all our customers. We released a quick update in the middle of the night that none of our customers can work on UK numbers, ”added the source close to the company.

The action was taken hours after NSO found out Pegasus was likely used by Dubai, whose leader Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum was locked in a child protection battle with his ex-wife Haya. , to hack his and Shackleton’s phone. and another of his lawyers.

Earlier this week, UK civil courts found, on a balance of probabilities, that Haya’s phone and those of his advisers and allies had been under surveillance which “occurred with express authority. or implied by [children’s] father ”in what amounted to“ a total abuse of trust, even an abuse of power ”.

Court rulings indicate that NSO exposed the hack late on the evening of August 5, 2020, alerting its senior lawyer, Shackleton, via the company’s ethics counselor, Cherie Blair, at an intense time in the legal battle between the Princess and Sheikh Mohammed. .

Notably, the company’s alarm came on the exact date an independent computer forensics researcher spotted Pegasus being used against numbers linked to Shackleton’s law firm Payne Hicks Beach. But the source said the similarity in the timing was just a fluke: “It’s a coincidence.”

It is not possible to immediately verify whether the NSO software has been modified, although those who have investigated the misuse of the software have stated that there is no evidence of a Pegasus hack attempt yet. involving a UK number after August 5 last year.

The same source close to the company said Pegasus was also not effective against US numbers – which it would have been for some time – as well as phones in the home market of NSO, Israel, and “all of them. members of Five Eyes ”. , Canada, Australia and New Zealand as well as the United Kingdom and the United States.

This suggests that Pegasus may still be effective against numbers in other NATO countries in Europe, such as France, which urged Israel to open an investigation into the use of the surveillance software, after it was It emerged that phone numbers belonging to President Macron and more than half of his cabinet were on a leaked list of people who were seen as potential targets of interest to NSO’s government clients since 2016.

Pegasus spyware is sold by NSO to controlled states for use against terrorists and organized criminals. It has the power to covertly take control of a person’s phone, steal personal data, or activate the microphone to record their surroundings – often simply by sending a message to a handset.

An investigation by the Guardian earlier this year found that 50,000 phone numbers had appeared on the leaked list. At least 10 countries – including the United Arab Emirates, of which Dubai is a part – have reportedly entered listed numbers.

But there have been repeated criticisms that activists, journalists and lawyers were also being targeted using the technology, with 400 UK numbers appearing in the leaked list having been selected by the UAE.

NSO Group does not appear to have come under direct pressure from the UK to recode its software, although the source close to the company’s operations added: “I believe some of the entities are aware” – a reference apparent to British intelligence.

This could explain part of the UK’s low-key response to hacking findings reached by civil courts. A subtle warning about the “legal, responsible and proportionate” use of cyber surveillance by the Foreign Ministry was accompanied by an emphasis on the importance of the UAE as an ally.

MPs and human rights groups have called for an open and transparent government or parliamentary inquiry in light of the scandal.

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