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Dozens of Jordan rights activists, lawyers, journalists hacked by Israel's Pegasus spyware

February 1, 2024 at 7:46 pm

An Israeli woman uses her iPhone in front of the building housing the Israeli NSO group [JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images]

Dozens of activists, journalists and lawyers in Jordan have had their mobile phone devices hacked using the infamous Israeli spyware, Pegasus, in what appears to be the latest targeting of human and political rights advocates in the country.

According to an investigation by Access Now and Citizen Lab, unidentified assailants or authorities used the spyware to target devices belonging to 35 members of Jordanian civil society who are engaged in defending civic and political freedoms, human rights activists and journalists covering stories focusing on corruption.

Those individuals include two members of Human Rights Watch (HRW) in Jordan, a lawyer, two journalists from the Organisation for Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP). And five members of the National Forum for the Defence of Freedoms – a Jordanian legal body that provides pro-bono representation to activists, political prisoners and other citizens.

While some victims were targeted through the common technique of sophisticated social engineering schemes, in which hackers impersonate figures – in this case known journalists – in order to get the target to click on links with spyware, other victims were hacked by a “zero-click attack”, which is able to infect a phone without the user clicking on any link.

Read: UK teaches Jordan how to spy on its citizens

The Pegasus spyware, created by the Israeli company, NSO Group, enables its users to access all of the contents of targets’ phones and devices. Numerous governments and state actors – especially in the Gulf and the wider Middle East – have purchased the spyware over the years and have used it against both domestic and foreign targets in an effort to silence dissent.

“We believe this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the use of Pegasus spyware in Jordan and that the true number of victims is likely much higher,” the report by Access Now stated.

The perpetrators of the hackings have not yet been identified, as that is reportedly often impossible to determine, despite analysis of infected devices. It is suspected, however, that Jordanian authorities and security services are responsible for the targeting operations due to their increased crackdown on dissent and political and human rights activism in recent years.

The report called on Amman to ensure “prompt, impartial and independent investigation into hacking allegations”, to stop intimidating and surveilling members of civil society, as well as to uphold its constitutional and human rights obligations under international law in order to protect freedom of expression in the country.

Read: Jordanian rights lawyer speaks about the Pegasus hacking of her phone