German Authorities Reveal They Secretly Used NSO Group’s Spyware, Reports Say
The Israeli cyberespionage firm NSO Group has stirred attention over the last month after investigative reports revealed that the company has been providing its flagship spyware product, Pegasus software, for use by governments to spy on journalists, activists, politicians and even other country's leaders.
The German federal agencies (BKA) secretly acquired the Pegasus spyware program, developed by the Israeli company NSO Group, to spy on suspects, the Die Zeit newspaper reported on Tuesday, citing anonymous sources in law enforcement.
BKA reportedly signed a contract with the NSO Group, despite some “serious concerns from lawyers” about the misuse of software said to not only collect data, such as emails and contacts from personal iPhone and Android cell phones, but also provide access to microphones and cameras.
According to the newspaper, German federal authorities first negotiated the Pegasus acquisition in 2017, and the program was implemented in 2019. Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court allowed surveillance on suspects' phones and computers only in special cases, as well as limited spy tools, and Pegasus was used “in a small number of cases,” sources said.
© REUTERS / STRINGERIsraeli cyber firm NSO Group's exhibition stand is seen at "ISDEF 2019", an international defence and homeland security expo, in Tel Aviv, Israel June 4, 2019. Picture taken June 4, 2019.
Israeli cyber firm NSO Group's exhibition stand is seen at "ISDEF 2019", an international defence and homeland security expo, in Tel Aviv, Israel June 4, 2019. Picture taken June 4, 2019.
© REUTERS / STRINGER
A scandal erupted on 19 July, when a French non-profit organization, Forbidden Stories, and the human rights organization Amnesty International released information indicating that governments in dozens of countries had been regularly using Pegasus spyware for illegal surveillance, which reportedly had covered approximately 50,000 phone numbers around the world.
As Le Monde reported earlier, the Pegasus database could contain, among others, the private cell phone number of French President Emmanuel Macron, targeted by the Moroccan intelligence service, as well as the cell numbers of former French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and 14 other ministers.
Pegasus, according to investigative results, was used to target some 600 politicians and officials, 65 businessmen, 85 human rights activists and over 180 journalists. Only about 1,000 number owners from different countries have been identified.
The company claimed that it does not have access to the data collected by users of the spyware, and made an additional claim that Pegasus was developed to detect large-scale criminal activity and terrorism.