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Egypt opposition figure’s phone hacked with Israel spyware, reveals researchers

September 25, 2023 at 2:34 pm

Egypt’s national flag in Cairo. [KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images]

A prominent Egyptian opposition figure who announced his candidacy for the presidency became the target of Predator, a spyware with links to Israel, researchers said last week, reported the Times of Israel.

A joint investigation by Canadian internet watchdog, Citizen Lab, and Google found that the phone of Egyptian politician, Ahmed Eltantawy, had been compromised using spyware built by the Israeli company, Cytrox.

Moreover, the researchers suggested that the Egyptian government was the probable source behind the attempted cyberattack.

“Our forensic analysis showed numerous attempts to target Eltantawy with Cytrox’s Predator spyware,” Citizen Lab said in the report.

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Cytrox is an Israeli-Hungarian cyber arms dealer that sells to foreign governments. Among its products is the notorious Predator spyware, which has been previously reported to have compromised the devices of two Egyptian exiles and various other targets, including an employee of Meta, the parent company of Facebook.

In its report, Citizen Lab explained that the recent efforts to compromise the cybersecurity of Eltantawy, included setting up his Vodafone Egypt mobile network connection to trigger the automatic installation of the Predator spyware on his devices when he accessed specific websites lacking the secure HTTPS protocol.

Bill Marczak, senior researcher at Citizen Lab, which is based at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, said: “It’s scary the fact that the government can essentially select anyone on Vodafone Egypt’s network and perhaps other networks for infections and they just flip a switch” and select them for targeting.

He added, “The most likely scenario here is that, yes, there is this cooperation from Vodafone.”

A former journalist and lawmaker, Eltantawy, announced in March his bid to challenge incumbent President Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi in 2024, who has overseen a sharp crackdown on political opposition.

Eltantawy, family members and supporters have complained of being harassed, which led him to ask Citizen Lab researchers to analyse his phone for potential spyware infection. It comes after Citizen Lab had previously confirmed that Eltantaw’s phone was hacked with this spyware in a separate incident that occurred in 2021.

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