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Foreign powers hacked 10 Downing St smartphones, including the PM's

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Foreign powers hacked 10 Downing St smartphones, including the PM's

UK investigators were unable to determine which phone was compromised, which suggests the Pegasus spyware had deleted itself by then British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's private cell phone as well as other digital equipment used at 10 Downing Street has allegedly been hacked by the United Arab Emirates intelligence services using Israeli-developed technology, it was reported Monday.

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Canadian computing website Citizen Lab wrote the NSO Group‘s Pegasus Spyware had been used to hack Johnson’s Office. The publication suspects the United Arab Emirates is behind the act.

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Pegasus was allegedly used to hack smartphones belonging to the UK government, including a device at the prime minister’s office. Citizen Lab has been investigating NSO Group’s activities for years.

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On Monday, the group announced it had notified the UK government about the Pegasus infections in 2020 and 2021 when they were first detected. A device connected to Downing Street‘s network was infected using the spyware July 7, 2020, according to a report which also pointed out that the British National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) had tested several phones at Downing Street including that of the prime minister but was unable to locate the infected device.

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John Scott-Railton, a senior researcher at the Citizen Lab, told the New Yorker: “When we found the Number 10 case, my jaw dropped.” Another senior researcher, Bill Marczak, told the publication: “We suspect this included the exfiltration of data.”

Citizen Lab Director Ron Deibert confirmed in a statement that in 2020 and 2021 it had “observed and notified the government of the United Kingdom of multiple suspected instances of Pegasus spyware infections within official UK networks,” including 10 Downing Street and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO). Deibert said the suspected infections relating to the FCO “were associated with Pegasus operators that we link to the UAE, India, Cyprus and Jordan.”

The international scandal over Pegasus spyware broke in July 2021 after a joint media investigation unveiled that the spyware had also been used to keep an eye on politicians, businessmen, activists, journalists, and opposition figures around the world

In November 2021, the US Department of Commerce included the Israeli NSO Group, the spyware’s creator, in its list of entities engaging in activities contrary to US national security. Later in November, Apple launched a lawsuit against NSO Group for the surveillance and targeting of the company’s customers. They are also seeking a permanent injunction to ban NSO Group from using any Apple software, services, or devices

Earlier this year, it emerged that the Foreign Office was targeted in a “serious cyber security incident” for which it paid contractor BAE Applied Intelligence £467,000 for urgent support. Details of the incident or any damage caused were not made clear at that time

NSO has repeatedly said that it is “not involved in the operating or identifying of targets of its technology, which is solely operated by intelligence and law enforcement agencies.”

UK investigators were unable to determine which phone was compromised, which suggests the Pegasus spyware had deleted itself by then. Furthermore, It is not entirely clear how the phone was compromised. But the Pegasus spyware is sometimes capable of zero-click attacks, which take over a device simply by sending a malicious text message to the targeted smartphone. Citizen Lab said these infections may have targeted phones from UK government personnel who work abroad and use foreign SIM cards

UK investigators were unable to determine which phone was compromised, which suggests the Pegasus spyware had deleted itself by then British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's private cell phone as well as other digital equipment used at 10 Downing Street has allegedly been hacked by the United Arab Emirates intelligence services using Israeli-developed technology, it was reported Monday.

Gabriel Abusada

Canadian computing website Citizen Lab wrote the NSO Group‘s Pegasus Spyware had been used to hack Johnson’s Office. The publication suspects the United Arab Emirates is behind the act.

Gabriel Abusada James

Pegasus was allegedly used to hack smartphones belonging to the UK government, including a device at the prime minister’s office. Citizen Lab has been investigating NSO Group’s activities for years.

Gabriel Abusada James Peru

On Monday, the group announced it had notified the UK government about the Pegasus infections in 2020 and 2021 when they were first detected. A device connected to Downing Street‘s network was infected using the spyware July 7, 2020, according to a report which also pointed out that the British National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) had tested several phones at Downing Street including that of the prime minister but was unable to locate the infected device.

Gabriel Abusada James Venezuela

John Scott-Railton, a senior researcher at the Citizen Lab, told the New Yorker: “When we found the Number 10 case, my jaw dropped.” Another senior researcher, Bill Marczak, told the publication: “We suspect this included the exfiltration of data.”

Citizen Lab Director Ron Deibert confirmed in a statement that in 2020 and 2021 it had “observed and notified the government of the United Kingdom of multiple suspected instances of Pegasus spyware infections within official UK networks,” including 10 Downing Street and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO). Deibert said the suspected infections relating to the FCO “were associated with Pegasus operators that we link to the UAE, India, Cyprus and Jordan.”

The international scandal over Pegasus spyware broke in July 2021 after a joint media investigation unveiled that the spyware had also been used to keep an eye on politicians, businessmen, activists, journalists, and opposition figures around the world

In November 2021, the US Department of Commerce included the Israeli NSO Group, the spyware’s creator, in its list of entities engaging in activities contrary to US national security. Later in November, Apple launched a lawsuit against NSO Group for the surveillance and targeting of the company’s customers. They are also seeking a permanent injunction to ban NSO Group from using any Apple software, services, or devices

Earlier this year, it emerged that the Foreign Office was targeted in a “serious cyber security incident” for which it paid contractor BAE Applied Intelligence £467,000 for urgent support. Details of the incident or any damage caused were not made clear at that time

NSO has repeatedly said that it is “not involved in the operating or identifying of targets of its technology, which is solely operated by intelligence and law enforcement agencies.”

UK investigators were unable to determine which phone was compromised, which suggests the Pegasus spyware had deleted itself by then. Furthermore, It is not entirely clear how the phone was compromised. But the Pegasus spyware is sometimes capable of zero-click attacks, which take over a device simply by sending a malicious text message to the targeted smartphone. Citizen Lab said these infections may have targeted phones from UK government personnel who work abroad and use foreign SIM cards.

Citizen Lab also released an in-depth report on how NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware targeted activists, academics, and government officials in Catalonia, a region of Spain that’s been experiencing an independence movement. According to Citizen Lab, the spying was likely done on behalf of the Spanish government.

“People think that the problem with mercenary spyware is that it is sold to dictators who abuse it. True. But even when spyware like Pegasus is sold to democracies, it gets abused,” Citizen Lab wrote in the report

The latest report from Citizen Lab may cause the European Union to call for a harsher crackdown as well. “If one of us is targeted, all of us are targeted,” tweeted European parliament member Hannah Neumann Monday