Fears of Israeli spyware spread among West Bank activists

Human rights organizations that work in the West Bank today report that phones in the offices of some Palestinian NGO’s in occupied East Jerusalem have been infected with the powerful spyware Pegasus, commonly used…

Fears of Israeli spyware spread among West Bank activists

Human rights organizations that work in the West Bank today report that phones in the offices of some Palestinian NGO’s in occupied East Jerusalem have been infected with the powerful spyware Pegasus, commonly used by the Israeli military. The groups — most of them closely aligned with Hamas — have called on the United States, which counts on West Bankers to be active members of the NGO community, to pressure Israel into deleting the spyware, according to a piece published Monday on i24 news.

Imposing its ban on military-grade spyware back in July, President Donald Trump’s administration has not said if it will pressure Israel to remedy the misuse of Pegasus, which the military, together with its two principal intelligence agencies, Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) and Lockheed Martin, co-created in the 1980s. An S.A.I.C. spokesman declined to comment.

Among the NGOs calling for action is The Committee Against Torture in Israel, which placed a ban on one of its officers handling the issue after he received three separate phone calls from government officials and some of the NGO workers. Another Israeli human rights organization also complained of Skype calls with unblocked Skype accounts, according to i24. “This is clearly well-planned by the Israeli intelligence services in coordination with the prison service,” said Issa Qaraqea, secretary-general of the Palestinian Prisoners Club.

Both Israeli and Palestinian experts on cyberespionage and penetration of the electronic society said Monday that the reports must be taken seriously, because of the precision with which the Israeli military forces use spyware to monitor its enemies’ communications, particularly Hamas and its supporters. “Given the tools for identifying and even penetrating organizations like The Committee Against Torture in Israel and The Prisoners Club is not that much different from recent efforts of the Israeli intelligence services, their success rate could be quite high,” said Maj. Marc Scribner, a cyber intelligence researcher and adjunct scholar at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS). Scribner, who has done an extensive analysis of Pegasus, added that such a widespread penetration of Palestinian activists underscores the fundamental weakness of a collection system operated by agencies with military capability but civilian experience. “The main vulnerability of the Israeli military’s systems has not been their extreme sophisticated capabilities and even potential in penetration but rather their poor knowledge of the law and privacy and thus, it seems, the penetration of Palestinian activist groups,” he said.

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