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Israel rejects Ukraine’s request for Pegasus spyware over fears of angering Russia

March 25, 2022 at 4:01 pm

This studio photographic illustration shows a smartphone with the website of Israel’s NSO Group which features ‘Pegasus’ spyware, on display in Paris on July 21, 2021 [JOEL SAGET/AFP via Getty Images]

Israeli defence officials rejected Ukraine’s efforts to obtain the Israeli Pegasus programme due to fears of jeopardising its relations with Russia.

According to The Guardian, Ukraine has been trying to get its hands on the Israeli espionage software since 2019.

The Pegasus spyware, developed by the Israeli NSO Group, is capable of not only capturing encrypted messages, photos and other sensitive information from phones, but also turning them into recording devices to monitor surroundings, based on product manuals reviewed by Reuters.

One senior Ukrainian intelligence official, reported by The Guardian, said Israel’s decision had left Ukrainian officials feeling “confused.”

Additional sources close to the matter said Israel’s decision reflected a reluctance to agitate Russia, which has a close intelligence relationship with Israel. The sources said Israel feared that granting Ukraine the ability to target Russia-based mobile phone numbers through Pegasus would be viewed as an act of aggression against Russian intelligence services.

Israel's Pegasus spyware global weapon to silence critics? - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Israel’s Pegasus spyware global weapon to silence critics? – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

NSO has been reported as stating that its technology helps stop terrorism and that the group has installed controls to curb spying against innocent targets.

However, NSO software was made infamous in July when the University of Toronto’s internet watchdog, Citizen Lab, exposed numerous governments’ misuse of the software through the hacking of around 50,000 phones and devices belonging to journalists, human rights activists and political critics worldwide.

Amongst those client governments were Gulf Arab states, including the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

Moreover, Apple had filed a lawsuit against NSO and its parent company, OSY Technologies, in an effort to stop the spyware company from targeting any Apple devices.

NSO is an Israeli company specialising in the development of cyber-espionage tools. It was founded in 2010.

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