Spyware created by Israeli group NSO found on jailed Indian activist’s phone

Case against jailed Indian activist re-examined after it was revealed the man, a government critic, had his phone hacked using Israeli spyware controversial, the Guardian reported.

The report released on Friday indicates that an analysis of Rona Wilson’s phone by Amnesty International experts revealed that it was infected with the Pegasus spyware, developed by the NSO group, between July 2017 and March 2018, approximately three months before he was arrested on terrorism-related charges. .

Amnesty’s investigation revealed that during this time Wilson’s phone was targeted with 15 text messages containing links to install Pegasus spyware and compromise the device.

The report says Wilson was part of a network of advocates for the rights of indigenous communities and low-caste Indians. Members of the network have been detained since 2018.

The report says research by US digital forensics firm Arsenal Consulting found evidence placed on the computers of some of those detained, including Wilson.

Wilson’s phone number was on a target list for the software that was released earlier this year as part of Project Pegasus, an investigation into the use of spyware by news organizations and a non-profit organization. lucrative French.

Rona Wilson after her arrest in 2018 (Screenshot / Twitter)

When asked about Wilson, NSO Group told the Guardian: “Without speaking to specific countries and customers, the allegations raised in this investigation are unclear.

“Once a legally democratic country, after due process, uses tools to investigate a suspected person for the purpose of overthrowing a [democratically elected] government, this would in no way be considered a misuse of these tools.

The NSO group has faced a torrent of international criticism over allegations it helps governments spy on dissidents and rights activists. NSO insists that its product is only intended to help countries fight crime and terrorism.

The company’s flagship spyware, Pegasus, is considered one of the most powerful cybersurveillance tools available on the market, giving operators the ability to effectively take full control of a target’s phone, download all device data or activate its camera or microphone. unbeknownst to the user.

Critics say that in India, this is part of a growing attack on dissent and civil liberties under the Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

India was one of 45 countries where tens of thousands of numbers were targeted with spyware, according to leaked documents released this year.

The Indian government has said it will not deny or confirm the use of Pegasus for national security reasons.

In October, the Indian Supreme Court ordered an independent investigation into the government’s alleged use of Pegasus on journalists, opposition politicians and activists, with the chief justice calling the implications “Orwellian.”

The United States Department of Commerce has blacklisted the NSO, restricting the Herzliya-based company’s links to American companies over allegations that it “allowed foreign governments to carry out transnational crackdowns. “.

Additionally, Apple has sued NSO Group for targeting users of its devices, saying the company at the center of the Pegasus surveillance scandal must be held accountable.

Apple is also seeking unspecified damages from the NSO Group for what it says was the time and money it took to respond to the spyware maker’s alleged abuse of its products, adding in its statement that he would donate any payment to organizations that expose such spyware.

This was the second time that NSO Group had been targeted by a large US tech company, with Facebook suing the Israeli company in 2019 for allegedly targeting users of its WhatsApp messaging app.

In this file photo from June 19, 2017, a person types on a laptop keyboard in North Andover, Mass. (AP Photo / Elise Amendola, File)

A US appeals court has dismissed a petition by the NSO group to dismiss Facebook’s lawsuit against it. In a 3-0 vote, the court rejected NSO’s defense that it “could claim foreign sovereign immunity”, opening the company to additional lawsuits such as the one filed by Apple.

Last month, rating agency Moody’s released figures showing NSO Group is at increasing risk of defaulting on approximately $ 500 million in debt due to upcoming cash flow issues following blacklisting. the United States.

Meanwhile, the Defense Ministry has dramatically reduced the number of countries Israeli companies can sell cybertechs to amid the global fallout on NSO Group, according to a report last month. The updated November list includes 37 countries, up from 102, according to the Calcalist daily.

Countries with questionable human rights records, including Israel’s new allies, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates, have been suppressed, according to the report.

Other abandoned countries include Saudi Arabia and Mexico. The Saudis reportedly used NSO’s Pegasus spyware to monitor Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018. Mexico has also reportedly used monitoring technology on journalists and activists.

However, India remains on the updated list.

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