The fallout from NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware furore continues, after a report last week alleged that phones of five current French cabinet ministers may have been compromised.
Traces of Pegasus spyware were allegedly found on the mobile phones of at least five current French cabinet ministers, the investigative website Mediapart reported. It cited multiple anonymous sources and a confidential intelligence dossier as its source.
It comes after Apple last week rushed out an emergency patch after the discovery of a different critical vulnerability, concerning iMessage, which was also linked to Israeli surveillance specialist NSO.
The Pegasus spyware furore meanwhile has been ongoing for a while now.
In October 2019 NSO was sued by Facebook over an allegation it was behind the cyberattack in 2019 that infected WhatsApp users with advanced surveillance hacks in May 2019.
NSO always said it only supplies to law enforcement and governments, but privacy campaigners in December last year said they had found multiple cases in which its spyware was deployed on the devices of dissidents or journalists.
And matters really ramped up in July this year, when the Pegasus Project alleged that NSO’s Pegasus spyware had been used “to facilitate human rights violations around the world on a massive scale.”
The Pegasus Project is a global media consortium of more than 80 journalists around the world, coordinated by Forbidden Stories, a Paris-based media non-profit, with the technical support of Amnesty International.
It allegedly uncovered evidence that revealed that the phone numbers for 14 heads of state, including French President Emmanuel Macron, Pakistan’s Imran Khan and South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa, as well as 600 government officials and politicians from 34 countries, had appeared in a leaked database at the heart of the investigative project.
President Macron changed both his mobile phone and phone number in light of the Pegasus row.
President Macron also telephoned the Israeli prime minister, Naftali Bennett, to ensure that the Israeli government was “properly investigating” the allegations that he may have been targeted with spyware by Morocco’s security services.
This resulted in officials from the Israeli defence ministry ‘visiting’ the offices of NSO near Tel Aviv.
Now the Mediapart report alleges that traces of Pegasus spyware were found on the mobile phones of at least five current French cabinet ministers.
It should be noted that this has not been reported by the Pegasus Project, and there is no firm evidence that the phones of the five cabinet members were successfully hacked.
When the Pegasus spyware is successfully deployed, it allows its users to monitor conversations, text messages, photos and locations.
It can also turn phones into remotely operated listening devices.
This is not the first time a security scare has involved high profile figures.
In 2013 it was reported that German intelligence had warned German Chancellor Angela Merkel that her phone had been compromised by the NSA, although some doubted this report.
Mediapart meanwhile has alleged that the mobile phones of the French ministers for education, territorial cohesion, agriculture, housing and overseas showed traces of the Pegasus malware.
The report alleged not all the ministers were in their current posts at the time of the alleged targeting, which occurred in 2019 and into 2020, but all were ministers.
The phone of one of Macron’s diplomatic advisers at the Élysée Palace had also been targeted, the report alleged.
“We stand by our previous statements regarding French government officials,” NSO was quoted by the Guardian newspaper as saying in a statement. “They are not and have never been Pegasus targets. We won’t comment on anonymous source allegations.”
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