Pegasus Snooping No 10

Canada-based Citizen Lab reveals that Pegasus spyware accessed No 10

No10 was hit by a suspected spyware attack in 2020 and 2021, using the Israeli NSO Group’s controversial Pegasus software. According to a report released by the tech organisation Citizen Lab, Johnson’s Downing Street office was hit by “multiple” suspected infections.

Citizen Lab said it suspected the spyware attacks targeting Number 10 Downing Street were orchestrated by the United Arab Emirates.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson at Number 10 Downing Street. Picture by Simon Dawson / No 10 Downing Street

 “We confirm that in 2020 and 2021 we observed and notified the government of the United Kingdom of multiple suspected instances of Pegasus spyware infections within official UK networks,” the group said in a statement.

“These included: the prime minister’s office (10 Downing Street) [and] the Foreign and Commonwealth Office … The suspected infection at the UK prime minister’s office was associated with a Pegasus operator we link to the UAE.”

They added that their researchers were not able to identify the specific individuals within these bodies that had been hacked.

“Because the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and its successor office, the Foreign Commonwealth and Development office (FCDO), have personnel in many countries, the suspected FCO infections we observed could have related to FCO devices located abroad and using foreign SIM cards, similar to the hacking of foreign phone numbers used by US State Department employees in Uganda in 2021.

“The United Kingdom is currently in the midst of several ongoing legislative and judicial efforts relating to regulatory questions surrounding cyber policy, as well as redress for spyware victims.  We believe that it is critically important that such efforts are allowed to unfold free from the undue influence of spyware. Given that a UK-based lawyer involved in a lawsuit against NSO Group was hacked with Pegasus in 2019, we felt compelled to ensure that the UK Government was aware of the ongoing spyware threat, and took appropriate action to mitigate it,” said Ron Deibert, Director of the Citizen Lab and Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy.

The Pegasus software allows governments to access the phones or laptops of activists and journalists worldwide, allowing operators to view messages, contacts, the camera, microphone, and location history.

Since the investigation into the global use of the illegal spyware in governments such as Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates, the NSO Group has said that they have no control over how clients use their products or have access to any data they collect and claim to have safeguards in place.

In November 2021, the US blacklisted the NSO Group after saying its activities went against its national security interests.

In a statement to The Guardian, the NSO Group said criticism against their company by groups like Citizen Lab was “politically motivated”.

“We have repeatedly cooperated with governmental investigations, where credible allegations merit. However, information raised regarding these allegations are, yet again, false and could not be related to NSO products for technological and contractual reasons,” said a spokesperson.

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