Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s phone hacked using Pegasus spyware

Pegasus spyware has been used to hack into the mobile phones of Spain’s prime minister and defense minister, the government in Madrid said on Monday, in the first confirmed use of the spyware against a sitting head of government.

The phones of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and Margarita Robles, Minister of Defense, were illegally hacked three times last year and entire swathes of data were exposed to illegal access, said Félix Bolaños, a Minister of cabinet, during a press conference.

“There is no doubt that this was an illegal intervention made from outside the state without any judicial authorization,” Bolaños said, adding that details of the May and June 2021 incidents had been sent. to the Spanish National Court for investigation. He did not comment on the origin of the attacks.

French President Emmanuel Macron changed his phone and number last year after media reported that he and 14 French government ministers had been targeted using Pegasus. Spain’s allegations, however, are the first time a government has confirmed the use of the spyware against a national leader.

Pegasus was developed by the Israeli NSO Group as a computer tool for use by authorized governments to fight terrorism and crime. But its alleged use against opposition politicians, human rights activists and others has been widely criticized by Amnesty International and other human rights groups.

The spyware, which is only officially available to government agencies, can hack mobile phones by taking advantage of undiscovered vulnerabilities in their operating systems and then, without the knowledge of the phone’s owner, harvest data about the device and pass them to the attacker. It can also be used for real-time monitoring by activating microphones and cameras.

The revelation that the phones of senior government officials in Madrid had been infected with Pegasus came as the Catalonian regional government accused Spain’s National Intelligence Center (CNI) of using the same spyware to hack the cellphones of dozens of separatist politicians between 2017 and 2020.

According to Citizen Lab, a cybersecurity watchdog based at the University of Toronto, the phones of more than 60 people linked to Catalonia’s independence movement, including the current and three former regional presidents, were targeted at using Pegasus and spyware developed by Candiru, another Israeli. the society.

Pere Aragonès, head of Catalonia’s regional government, on Monday condemned spying on Sánchez and Robles, but accused the government in Madrid of being slow to act on allegations of widespread spying on Catalan politicians and other supporters of independence.

“I know how it feels to be spied on, to have your privacy and political activity violated,” he said on Twitter. “But there is clearly a double standard here. Madrid was taking immediate action, as “mass surveillance against Catalan institutions has been met with silence and apologies”.

NSO Group said it has a zero-tolerance policy on the use of its software against political targets. The EU condemned the illicit use of Pegasus and promised legislation to strengthen privacy rules. But he said pursuing specific cases is the responsibility of national authorities.

In February, the EU data agency recommended that the use of Pegasus be banned within the bloc. A committee of the European Parliament opened an investigation last week into alleged use of the spyware in countries including Spain, Hungary, Poland and Greece.

NSO Group said in a statement that it would cooperate with Spanish government investigations. He described any potential targeting of journalists, dissidents and politicians as “a serious misuse” of his technology.

“While we have not seen any information related to this alleged misuse and do not know the details of this specific case, NSO’s firm position on these matters is that the use of cyber tools to monitor politicians, dissidents, activists and journalists runs counter to the desired use of such critical tools.

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