Amnesty says Moroccan authorities used Israel’s NSO’s Pegasus software to spy on a journalist


Amnesty: Omar Radi spied on by the Moroccan authorities using Israel’s NSO’s Pegasus software

Amnesty International stated on Monday that the Moroccan authorities used NSO’s Pegasus software to insert spyware onto the cellphone of Omar Radi, a journalist convicted in March over a social media post. Amnesty International is a non-governmental organization with its headquarters in the United Kingdom focused on human rights. The organization says it has more than eight million members and supporters around the world.

Pegasus is reportedly a highly invasive tool that can switch on a target’s phone camera and microphone as well as access data on it, effectively turning the phone into a pocket spy.

The attacks occurred over a period when Radi was being repeatedly harassed by the Moroccan authorities, with one attack taking place just days after NSO pledged to stop its products being used in human rights abuses.

Amnesty said in a statement.

Omar Radi has been systematically targeted by the Moroccan authorities due to his journalism and activism. He is a vocal critic of the government’s human rights record and has reported on corruption as well as links between corporate and political interests in Morocco. On 17 March 2020, he was handed a suspended four-month prison term for a tweet he posted in April 2019 criticizing the unfair trial of a group of activists.

Amnesty Tech carried out a forensic analysis of Omar Radi’s iPhone in February 2020. This revealed that the device was subject to a series of ‘network injection’ attacks. With network injections, attackers are able to monitor, intercept, and manipulate the internet traffic of the target. The phone’s web browser is then redirected to a malicious website, without requiring any action by the target. The malicious website then silently installs Pegasus spyware on the target’s phone.

For network injections, the attacker requires either physical proximity to the targets or access over mobile networks in the country which only a government could authorize, a further indication that the Moroccan authorities were responsible for the attack against Omar Radi.

The Israeli firm said it could not comment on “any relationship NSO Group might have with Moroccan authorities” due to confidentiality, but that it was looking into the concerns raised by Amnesty.

Amnesty has petitioned an Israeli court to revoke NSO’s defense ministry export license due to multiple hacking allegations. The case is ongoing and Amnesty said Monday it expected a judgment “soon”.

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