Discoveries: NSO Group, the designer of Pegasus, has 22 customers in the European Union, and spyware vendors abound

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The shock wave of the Pegasus case continues to widen, but this time it is affected by the European Union. Representatives of the European Parliament’s inquiry into Pegasus and similar spyware recently visited Israel and learned from NSO employees that the company has active contracts with 12 of the 27 EU members. “The responses of the Israeli company to the questions of the European Commission reveal that the company works with several security bodies in the European Union,” says the widely circulated Israeli newspaper. Ha’aretz.

This is a clear answer to assertions by the consortium Forbidden Stories (which includes 17 Western media) and Amnesty International that the scandal took place and which claimed that the only European country using Pegasus is Hungary led by Viktor Orban, a real pet. European globalization. These media outlets have been quick to wrongly and selectively target countries like Morocco. But they frankly fail to look at their own countries.

Detailing, “Representatives of the committee visited Israel in recent weeks to continue their investigation into the local computer warfare industry and spoke with NSO employees, representatives of the Israeli Ministry of Defense and local experts. Among the members of the said committee, a Catalan deputy, an NSO agent hacked his mobile phone.”

The commission was created after Project Pegasus was published last year, and its goal is to establish pan-European regulations for the acquisition, import and use of computer warfare software such as Pegasus. But while the committee members were in Israel, and especially since their return to Brussels, it was revealed that there was a well-developed industry in computer warfare in Europe, and many of its clients were European.

Remember that the Pegasus spyware of the Israeli company and competing products make it possible to infect the mobile phone of a monitoring victim, and then allow the operator to listen to his conversations, read the content of applications that should contain encrypted messages, and provide full access to the device’s contacts and files. Pegasus also allows you to listen in real time to what is happening around the mobile, by activating the camera and microphone.

22 clients and 12 European countries involved

During their visit to Israel, European lawmakers wanted to know the identities of NSO’s existing customers in Europe and were surprised to find that most EU countries have signed contracts with the company: 14 countries have dealt with NSO in the past and at least 12 countries still use it to legally intercept mobile phone calls, Pegasus says, According to NSO’s response to the panel’s questions Ha’aretz.

In response to questions from European lawmakers, the company explained that NSO currently works with 22 “end users” – security, intelligence and law enforcement agencies – in 12 European countries. In some of these countries, there is more than one customer, and the contract is concluded not with the state, but with the operating organization.

In the past, as NSO wrote to the committee, the company has worked with two other countries — but ties have been severed in the meantime. NSO has not disclosed which of these countries are still active clients, or which two countries have had their contracts frozen. But according to sources in the field of computer warfare, those two countries are Poland and Hungary, which last year were removed from the list of countries to which Israel allows the sale of offensive computer technology.

Some members of the commission believe that the contract(s) with Spain may have been frozen after revelations about the monitoring of Catalan separatist leaders, but sources on the ground made it clear that the country, which is considered law-abiding, is still on the list of countries approved by the Israeli Defense Ministry. The same sources added that after the case ended, Israel, NSO and another Israeli company operating in Spain demanded clarification from Madrid – and were promised that the use of Israeli devices was legal.

The sources interviewed by the Israeli newspaper confirmed that the contract between the Israeli companies and the Spanish government has not been broken. Meanwhile, in Spain, it was revealed that the hacking operations – problematic as politically as they are – were carried out legally.

The scale of NSO’s activity in Europe highlights the generally common aspect of Western countries’ resort to the offensive computer industry, which wiretaps civilians, under the terms of law and judicial oversight, as opposed to dictatorships that use these. Services Secretly against dissidents. NSO, other Israeli companies and new European suppliers are vying for a market of legitimate customers – a job that doesn’t usually involve bad behavior.

This area, called legal objection, in recent years has angered technology companies such as Apple (the maker of the iPhone) and Meta (Facebook, which owns WhatsApp, through which the spyware is installed). These two companies have sued NSO for hacking phones through their platforms, and they are currently battling the industry. This computer war is also causing great concern in Europe, where the European Union has passed comprehensive legislation on the issue of Internet privacy. However, this does not mean that there is no interest in or use of these technologies in the ancient continent.

Only last week, in fact, made discoveries that Greece was using Predator, a spyware similar to Pegasus, against an investigative journalist and against the leader of the Socialist Party. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the wiretapping was legal and based on a court order. It should be noted in this regard that Predator is manufactured by the computer company Cytrox, registered in North Macedonia and operating from Greece.

Spyware made in the European Union

Cytrox belongs to the Intellexa group, which is owned by Tal Dilian, a former high-ranking member of the Israeli intelligence services. Intellexa was previously located in Cyprus, but after a series of accidents, the company moved its activities to Greece. While the export of Pegasus, the NSO program, is supervised by the Israeli Ministry of Defense, the activity of Intellexa and Cytrox is not.

In the Netherlands, too, a public debate has recently taken place after more shocking revelations that Dutch intelligence used Pegasus to capture Redouane Taghi, a drug lord arrested in Dubai and charged with 10 murders under sordid circumstances. Although the use of Pegasus was legal and was activated against a criminal element, people in the Netherlands wanted to know why the secret services were involved in an internal investigation by the Dutch police. So there have been requests for a self-examination regarding how spyware is being used in the Netherlands.

In addition to the Israeli companies active on the continent, it turns out that Europe has a number of spyware manufacturers. Microsoft last week revealed a new spyware, Subzero, made by an Austrian company located in Lichtenstein, called DSIRF. This spyware exploits a complex vulnerability to hack computers.

In contrast to NSO, which waited several years before recognizing working with clients in Europe, the Austrians defended themselves. Two days after Microsoft’s disclosure, they responded harshly and explained that their spyware was “developed for official use only in European Union countries (…) the software was not wisely misused.”

In Europe, companies that design spyware are more experienced: a few weeks ago, Google security investigators uncovered a new spyware, Hermit, made by an Italian company called RSC Labs, the successor to Hacking Team, an old and well-known competitor, the correspondence was the source of a huge leak. , WikiLeaks, in 2015. Hermit also exploited an unknown vulnerability to allow hacking of iPhones and Android devices, and it was detected on devices in Italy, but also in distant countries. away from Kazakhstan and Syria.

Again, there is indication that the clients of RSC Labs, whose offices are in Milan, and with branches in France and Spain, include official European law enforcement organizations. On its website, the company proudly announces over 10,000 successful and legal hacking operations in Europe.

Other cell phone and computer spyware has been exposed in the past under the names FinFisher and FinSpy. In 2012 , The New York Times He revealed how the Egyptian government used this device, originally designed to fight crime, against political activists. In 2014, spyware was found on an American-Ethiopian device, raising suspicions that the authorities in Addis Ababa are also clients of the British-German manufacturer Lench IT Solutions.

dilemma

quoted Ha’aretzEU legislator Sophie Instfeld, a member of the Pegasus inquiry, said that “if one company serves 14 member states as clients, you can imagine the scale of the industry as a whole. There appears to be a huge market for commercial spyware, and EU governments are very keen buyers.” But they are very silent about it, which keeps it out of the public eye.”

So companies like NSO face a dilemma: disclosing the identities of client governments that are using their tools legally will help deal with public criticism from organizations like Citizen Lab, the media and lawmakers, but it will jeopardize deals. future, taking into account the confidentiality clauses concluded in its contracts with its clients.

We know that spyware is being developed in many European Union countries. “Italy, Germany and France are not the least of them,” said Ms. Entfield. “Even if they use it for legitimate purposes, they have no desire for more transparency, oversight, and safeguards. The Secret Service has its own world, where normal laws don’t apply. To some extent this has always been the case, but in the digital age they are all powerful, almost invisible and completely elusive, ” Ha’aretz.

In response to a question by the newspaper, NSO did not wish to comment. But one thing is for sure: in Europe, and elsewhere, almost everyone uses Pegasus or something similar. And the target for Morocco is ultimately the tree that hides the forest, that very European tree.

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