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Pegasus spyware: NSO terminates contract with UAE over hacking of Dubai leader

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Israeli-based NSO Group terminated its contract with the United Arab Emirates to use its powerful “Pegasus” state spyware tool as the ruler of Dubai is using it to hack the phones of his ex-wife and some of her close people. His lawyers told the High Court of England.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, directed the hacking of six phones belonging to Princess Haya bint al-Hussein, her lawyers and security team, the High Court of England ruled in a ruling that was made public. it was done. on Wednesday.

The hacking happened last year in London during an ongoing multimillion-dollar custody battle over their two children.

During the hearing, the court heard that the NSO had accused the United Arab Emirates of violating its rules on using Pegasus, a sophisticated “wiretap” system used to collect data from mobile devices of specific suspected prime criminals or terrorists. His contract with Emirates was canceled.

“Whenever a suspicion of abuse arises, NSO investigates, NSO alerts, NSO terminates,” NSO, which licenses its software only to government intelligence and law enforcement agencies, said in a statement. Said after it was published.

It said it had closed six systems of previous customers, contracts worth more than $300 million (about Rs 2,250 crore). NSO did not go into specifics.

Shaikh dismissed the court’s findings saying they were based on an incomplete picture.

“I have always denied the allegations leveled against me and I continue to do so,” he said in a statement.

The hacking of Haya and her associates came to light in early August last year, including Fiona Shackleton, an MP in Britain’s House of Lords and her lawyer.

According to documents and evidence presented to the court, a cyber-expert studying the possible use of Pegasus against a UAE worker realized that the phone was being hacked and information was being disseminated.

At the same time, NSO was alerted by a whistleblower that the software was being misused to target Haya and her legal team, a source familiar with the company told Reuters.

This prompted the princess to receive the warning, immediately informing Cherie Blair, a high-profile British lawyer appointed by the NSO to act as an external adviser on human rights.

Within two hours, the company shut down the customer’s system and then blocked another customer from being able to use Pegasus to target British numbers, a measure still in place today, the source said.

Difficulty

Blair, the wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, said in a statement to the court: “During a conversation with the senior manager of the NSO, I remember being asked whether her client was a larger state or a smaller state, the manager clarified. Did you know that this was the small state that I had taken as the state of Dubai.”

He told Shackleton that NSO had immediately stopped the country using Pegasus, and sought answers.

“Cherry Blair said that if they weren’t using software to find the real terrorists, they had a problem,” Haya’s attorney, Charles Gecki, told the court. “Her client didn’t want to engage in this type of behavior and wanted to help.”

In a letter to the court on December 14 last year, NSO said it has terminated its contract with its customer, which the company declined to identify.

“As the NSO letter of December 2020 makes clear, following its investigation, NSO has taken the extreme measure of terminating its customer’s use of the Pegasus software,” Judge Andrew MacFarlane, Chair of the Family Division in England and Wales, said in his ruling. said in.

“In business terms, this move should be understood as of great importance.”

In recent months, NSO’s Pegasus has become the focus of international attention following several reports that spyware was being used by the government to illegally target human rights campaigners, journalists and politicians.

In October 2019, WhatsApp sued NSO, alleging it helped government spies access the phones of nearly 1,400 users across four continents, including diplomats, political dissidents and senior government officials.

The source said the firm had around 45 countries as clients, but had refused to do business with another 90 because they could not trust them on human rights issues.

© Thomson Reuters 2021


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