Israel’s NSO Group has disabled its spyware from hacking UK phones — report – The Times of Israel

Israel’s NSO Group has disabled its spyware from hacking UK phones — report – The Times of Israel

A spyware tool developed by NSO Group of Israel can no longer be used to target cellphones with UK numbers, The Guardian reported Friday.

The British daily quoted unnamed sources familiar with NSO’s operations saying the change took effect last August, immediately after the company learned that its Pegasus software was allegedly used by the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, to hack the phones of his ex-wife Princess Haya and her lawyers.

“We shut down completely, hard-coded into the system [Pegasus], to all of our customers. We released a quick update in the middle of the night that none of our customers can work on UK numbers,” a source said.

The source added that Pegasus can also not be used against phone numbers in Israel, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. The latter countries make up the “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance.

The report came after Britain’s top court ruled Wednesday that Dubai’s ruler hacked the phones of his ex-wife and her attorneys during the legal battle over custody of their two children.

Sign up for the Startup Daily
and never miss Israel’s top tech stories

By signing up, you agree to the terms

Sheikh Mohammed, who is also vice president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, gave his “express or implied authority” to hack the phones of the princess and her attorneys using Pegasus spyware produced by NSO Group of Israel, the court said. The software is licensed exclusively to nation-states for use by their security services.

Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, at the International Defense Exhibition and Conference in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Feb. 17, 2019. (AP/Jon Gambrell)

NSO has been at the center of allegations that governments are abusing electronic surveillance technology to spy on political opponents, human rights activists and journalists.

The hacking of Princess Haya’s phone came to light partly through the work of William Marczak, a fellow at Citizen Lab, a cybersecurity watchdog at the University of Toronto. In addition, NSO adviser Cherie Blair, the wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, contacted one of the princess’ lawyers to inform her that the company suspected its software had been “misused” to hack into her phone.

Sheikh Mohammed’s lawyers chose not to offer evidence to counter the hacking allegations, arguing that the princess hadn’t proved either that the phones had been hacked or that the UAE or Dubai ordered any hacking that may have occurred.

The court was also told that Sheikh Mohammed could neither confirm nor deny whether the UAE had a contract with NSO for use of Pegasus software.

Pegasus infiltrates phones to vacuum up personal and location data and surreptitiously control the smartphone’s microphones and cameras. The program is designed to bypass detection and mask its activity.

NSO’s methods have grown so sophisticated that researchers say it can now infect targeted devices without any user interaction, the so-called “zero-click” option.

A logo adorns a wall on a branch of the Israeli NSO Group company, near the southern Israeli town of Sapir, August 24, 2021. (AP/Sebastian Scheiner)

The company doesn’t disclose its clients and says it sells its technology to Israeli-approved governments to help them target terrorists and break up pedophile rings and sex- and drug-trafficking rings.

But some of the targets of such surveillance take a different view.

An investigation by a global media consortium based on leaked targeting data suggested that NSO’s software was being used to spy on journalists, human rights activists and political dissidents.

What’s Hebrew for ‘fierce’?

In Streetwise Hebrew for the Times of Israel Community, each month we learn several colloquial Hebrew phrases around a common theme. These are bite-size audio Hebrew classes that we think you’ll really enjoy.

This month, we’re learning phrases on the topic of strength and power. Ready to get tough with us? 

Learn more

Learn more

Already a member? Sign in to stop seeing this

You’re serious. We appreciate that!

We’re really pleased that you’ve read X Times of Israel articles in the past month.

That’s why we come to work every day – to provide discerning readers like you with must-read coverage of Israel and the Jewish world.

So now we have a request. Unlike other news outlets, we haven’t put up a paywall. But as the journalism we do is costly, we invite readers for whom The Times of Israel has become important to help support our work by joining The Times of Israel Community.

For as little as $6 a month you can help support our quality journalism while enjoying The Times of Israel AD-FREE, as well as accessing exclusive content available only to Times of Israel Community members.

Join Our Community

Join Our Community

Already a member? Sign in to stop seeing this