Amnesty International Employee Targeted by Israeli-Made Spyware

Pegasus infects the user’s smartphone and steals all its information.Pegasus infects the user’s smartphone and steals all its information.

Amnesty International says one of its employees was targeted with Israeli-made surveillance software as part of a deliberate attempt to spy on the human rights group by a “government hostile to its work.”

In a 20-page report released on Wednesday, Amnesty said one of its staff members was baited with a suspicious WhatsApp message in early June about a protest in front of the Saudi Embassy in Washington, reported Aljazeera.

The Arabic message read, “Can you please cover [the protest] for your brothers detained in Saudi Arabia in front of the Saudi embassy in Washington. My brother was detained in Ramadan and I am on a scholarship here so please do not link me to this. [LINK]. Cover the protest now it will start in less than an hour. We need your support please.”

The link, if clicked, would have installed “Pegasus”, a sophisticated surveillance tool developed by the Israel-based company NSO Group, which infects the user’s smartphone and steals all the phone’s information, including, every contact name and phone number, text message, email, Facebook message, everything from Skype, WhatsApp, Viber, WeChat and Telegram.

The London-based human rights organization said it traced the malicious link to a network of sites tied to the NSO Group.

NSO said in a written statement that its product was “intended to be used exclusively for the investigation and prevention of crime and terrorism” and that allegations of wrongdoing would be investigated.

The company has previously admitted charging customers $650,000 to hack 10 devices, on top of a $500,000 installation fee.

 Digital Risk to Activists

Joshua Franco, Amnesty International’s head of technology and human rights, said the latest hacking attempt was emblematic of the increased digital risk activists faced.

“This chilling attack on Amnesty International highlights the grave risk posed to activists around the world. “NSO Group is known to only sell its spyware to governments. We, therefore, believe that this was a deliberate attempt to infiltrate Amnesty International by a government hostile to our human rights work,” Franco said.

“We are working with human rights activists to help them protect themselves against similar cowardly attacks, and ensure that abusive governments cannot use technology to silence them.”

NSO has been implicated in a series of digital break-in attempts, including a campaign against journalists, human-rights activists and lawyers looking into murders and corruption in Mexico; and an effort to hack into an Arab dissident’s phone that prompted an update to Apple’s operating system.


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