Israel accused of using ‘Pegasus’ spyware to target NGO

Human rights organizations accused Israel on Sunday of targeting a Palestinian NGO through a so-called Pegasus spyware, which exposes personal data and allegedly allows cyberattacks on foreigners in the Middle East. The charge comes as the two countries appeared to be setting aside their differences with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu inviting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to meet with him at his residence. While it is unclear what the origins of the accused attack are, which organizations were affected, or if there are other groups targeted by the Israeli government, Israel’s official foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, expressed regret for the attack.

“Our aim in being confident of our network security is that we don’t reach out to anybody else — that we don’t add anyone to the list of attackers,” Ms. Livni told Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth on Saturday. However, the Israeli official claimed Israel was investigating the recent actions of the Turkish-backed Islamic militant group, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The group is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and Israel and has been active in northern Iraq for over two decades.

“However, the activities of the PKK still need to be ruled out,” she added.

According to Human Rights Watch, while Pegasus spyware is routinely used by governments to maintain cyber stability, the alleged attack against NGO staff appears to be the first on volunteers. The spyware was developed for Israel’s military by a government research and development branch of the country’s intelligence agencies, Lavi Lab. In a lawsuit filed by the HRW, it was revealed that the spyware was used in more than 100 attacks on targets in 20 countries between 2016 and 2017. “Security experts have understood for several years that cyber powers in the Middle East are using so-called cyber weapons against diplomats, aid workers, and journalists,” HRW Executive Director Kenneth Roth said in a statement. “It appears that these tools were turned to use against aid workers, and made available to the Israeli spy program.”

Israeli officials did not respond to questions from the New York Times regarding the allegation, and whether government programs actually employed the product.

Read the full story at The New York Times.


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