[FIRST LOOK, HIGHLIGHTS] An Egyptian-Italian tech group used Pegasus spyware to spy on phones of at least four Palestinian human rights organizations, including that of a U.N. agency, as part of a sophisticated campaign, according to a report by two rights groups on Tuesday.
Mobile phones linked to the four organizations were infected with the spyware, or “Passage,” developed by the Egyptian intelligence service and widely used by Egyptian and Lebanese government authorities for domestic surveillance, according to the report from the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) and The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies.
The tech group Gamma International made the spyware, based on a Stuxnet-like computer worm that was designed to target the Iranian nuclear program and infect computers in Iran, operated by Gamma and sold to other nations. It is not known whether the Egyptian government used the Pegasus worm against its own personnel, or whether it was being used for more general intelligence.
“The findings … suggest that Egyptian intelligence was not only responsible for the use of the secret Trojan, but also for the provision of a sophisticated suite of tools to enable this surveillance,” HRW researcher Peter Bouckaert said in a statement.
The four human rights groups were HB Gary, a Tunisian human rights group working in Israel and Palestine; Al Araby Al Jadida, based in Egypt’s northern Sinai region, which works with Palestinians in the Gaza Strip; the Palestinian human rights group Adalah-NY and Al-Shorouk, based in Lebanon, which has offices in Jerusalem. The Mubarak regime supported the Adalah-NY group as part of its “pact with the devil” policy aimed at isolating the Islamist Hamas, which captured the Gaza Strip from forces loyal to then-Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in June 2007. (Oliver Daw was a colleague of Monitor reporter Andrew Laufman in Cairo in the 1990s. He is now the deputy managing editor of Forbes Middle East.)
HRW researcher Allan Hogarth added that the groups affected include “several Israeli peace groups, including Anarchists Against the Wall and Breaking the Silence, who use the phones to monitor the construction of Israel’s separation wall in the West Bank.” Hogarth wrote in the report that it was impossible to “regulate how such a sophisticated program can be used.”
Also, while governments use all manner of malware to compromise the privacy of their people, some Western intelligence agencies use Pegasus to target the human rights activists on their rosters. For example, according to the report, the Canadian Embassy in Israel distributed documents discussing the use of Pegasus by “its German counterpart.” HRW and Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies said they had seen at least one documented case in which a human rights worker for an international organization had posted to Twitter about what he was doing, which Gamma International used as an excuse to send an employee to track him down.
Turkey has become a force in global terrorism. But Turkey also has been behind some of the most reprehensible human rights abuses in recent memory.
Have you been arrested while trying to report on illegal executions? We want to hear from you. (text submissions welcome)https://t.co/xWD6IUGbjB pic.twitter.com/9nHmUmFKeX — @HumanRightsDay (@HumanRightsDay) June 20, 2018
While Egypt is in the news for all the wrong reasons, the country has been at the forefront of developing sophisticated spyware to turn phones and computers against their owners.
Dealing with Orbis security company in Belfast, Co. Down, a group of local Syrian activists have received multiple state-branded Pegasus spyware packages: one for basic government equipment, another for basic commercial devices, and then two more for smartphones.
The devices were delivered to the activists – not their fellow Syrians in Lebanon, but rather them in Northern Ireland. They did not install the spyware on the phones, but the data it contained was already being used against them. Their devices have been outfitted with a smartwatch-type tool that monitors their breathing rate and blood pressure in real time, allowing them to detect the alarm.
The activists have been documenting the tanks rolling into rebel-held areas of Syria, and activists, who have probably never even met each other, are targeting one another.
And at the Beirut office of Adalah-NY, they’ve started calling each other names. “After a while it became obvious that we didn’t feel comfortable around the group,” one activist who asked to remain anonymous said. “I decided to use a new password and stop using the group’s phone,” said another activist. “Many of us preferred to delete it altogether.”
Click here for more on this story from The Guardian.