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Posted On: 2 September 2018 10:29 am
Updated On: 12 November 2020 02:19 pm

UAE used Israeli software to spy on Qatari Emir

Khadiza Begum
Khadiza Begum
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The United Arab Emirates (UAE) had been using Israeli spyware for more than a year to hack into the phones of the Qatari emir, according to a report published by The New York Times.

Leaked emails submitted in two lawsuits against the Israel-based NSO Group suggested involvement in illegal spying for clients. The two lawsuits were filed in Israel and Cyprus by a Qatari citizen and Mexican journalists and activists who were targeted by the company's spyware programme, Pegasus.

Emails submitted in the lawsuits showed that the UAE signed a contract to license the company's surveillance software "as early as August 2013". The Emiratis sought to intercept the phone calls of Qatar's Amir H H Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani in 2014, as well as Saudi Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah - seen as a contender for the throne at the time - and Saad Hariri, Lebanon's current prime minister.

The New York Times also revealed the following email conversations:
"Could the company secretly record the phones of the emir of Qatar, a regional rival, the Emiratis asked? How about the phone of a powerful Saudi prince who directed the kingdom’s national guard? Or what about recording the phone of the editor of a London-based Arab newspaper?"

“Please find two recordings attached,” a company representative wrote back four days later, according to the emails. Appended were two recordings the company had made of calls by the editor, Abdulaziz Alkhamis, who confirmed this week that he had made the calls and said he did not know he was under surveillance.

How does the spyware (Pegasus) work!

How does the spyware (Pegasus) work!

Pegasus is a very sophisticated spyware that can target a user to install unwittingly if the target clicks on an SMS link. According to the BGR, once installed, the software is capable of eavesdropping on phone calls, text messages and a whole lot more. As evidenced via the image above, purportedly a snapshot from the NSO Group’s Pegasus documentation — Pegasus is an extremely versatile piece of spyware that can monitor all aspects of a device, including messages sent and received from iMessage, Gmail, Viber, Facebook, WhatsApp, Telegram, Skype, WeChat and more.

What is more worrying is that the technology can also monitor phone calls and potentially even face-to-face conversations conducted nearby.

Who is the NSO Group group?

The logo of the Israeli NSO Group company on a building in Herzliya, Israel.
The logo of the Israeli NSO Group company on a building in Herzliya, Israel. (AP Photo/Daniella Cheslow)

NSO Group Technologies is an Israeli firm that works in the world of cyber intelligence which was founded in 2010. Notably, the NSO Group doesn’t have an official online presence though its LinkedIn page does boast that it’s a “world leading company in the field of Cyber Security and research.” According to Business Insider, the company sells sophisticated hacking tools to governments, militaries, and intelligence agencies and it tries to keep such a low profile it even changes its name on a regular basis. NSO has previously admitted charging customers $650,000 to hack 10 devices, on top of a $500,000 installation fee.

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