French President Emmanuel Macron held an emergency cybersecurity meeting on Thursday to consider possible government action after reports of his mobile phones and government ministers may have been chosen as potential targets of the powerful Israeli spyware named Pegasus. .
French government spokesman Gabriel Attal told France-Inter radio that Mr Macron regularly changes his phone and is “taking the matter very seriously”.
He said investigations are underway to determine whether spyware created by the Herzliya-based cyber company NSO Group was actually installed on the phone and whether any data was recovered.
NSO has vehemently denied these allegations. independent They are “liars” and part of a “vicious and defamatory campaign”.
But it comes as Israel’s parliament said it may try to curb export licenses to NSOs. It has appointed an inter-ministerial team to assess reports based on an Amnesty International-led investigation by 17 media organizations that said malware created by NSO Group was used in an attempted or successful hack of a smartphone. I went.
According to the Amnesty investigation, alleged possible targets included French President Macron, King Mohammed VI of Morocco, the family of slain Saudi activist Jamal Khashoggi, journalists and activists. Altogether the so-called Pegasus Project produced a list of 50,000 phone numbers belonging to over 1000 people, which may or may not be listed for potential targeting.
The malware, which is one of the most sophisticated in the world, can turn most phones into a spying device to extract messages and data as well as secretly activate microphones and cameras.
The alleged revelations have sparked concern around the world, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel becoming the latest European leader to express alarm, saying on Thursday that spyware should be denied to countries where there is no judicial oversight.
Saudi Arabia is accused of deploying spyware among NSO’s alleged government clients, which in a statement to Saudi state television on Wednesday called the claims “baseless.”
Morocco’s head of public prosecutors has meanwhile ordered an investigation into allegations that the Moroccan government may have tried to use spyware to hack President Macron’s phone.
NSO has repeatedly denied the allegations saying independent It has sold only 45 carefully screened governments, and had shut down five systems when evidence of abuse was presented. However, employees said they are currently investigating 37 mobile numbers behind an Amnesty-led investigation, some related to rights activists and journalists, to investigate whether the hack with Pegasus was in violation of their contracts. it was done.
In a statement released Wednesday night, an NSO spokesperson said “just enough” and that the list of numbers 50,000 was in no way “a list of targets or potential targets for Pegasus.”
“The numbers in the list do not belong to the NSO group,” the statement said.
“Any claim that a name on the list necessarily belongs to a Pegasus target or a Pegasus potential target is false and false.
“NSO is a technology company. We do not operate the system, nor do we have access to the data of our customers, yet they are obliged to provide such information to us under investigation.
“NSO will thoroughly investigate any credible evidence of abuse of its technologies, as we always have, and will shut down systems where necessary.
But in Israel, the Defense Ministry is under increasing pressure to withhold NSO’s export licenses, which are required to sell Pegasus to customers.
The Defense Ministry defended the export licence, saying it only allows export of cyber products to “government entities, for lawful use” and for the sole purpose of fighting crime and terrorism.
But an Israeli parliamentary panel may call for changes to the country’s export policy.
Ram Ben-Barak, head of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, told Israel’s Army Radio, citing the government-run Defense Export Control Agency, “We certainly need to take a fresh look at this whole subject of the licenses granted by DECA. Will happen.”
The former deputy head of Israel’s intelligence agency Mossad said the Israeli government team “will investigate this, and we will be sure to look at the findings and see if we need to fix things here”. He said that the proper use of Pegasus “helped a lot of people”.