Two female activists in Bahrain and Jordan hacked with NSO spyware | world news
The plight of women’s rights activists in Bahrain and Jordan is under the spotlight after new revelations that two prominent activists have been repeatedly hacked by countries using NSO Group spyware.
An investigation by the human rights group Front Line Defenders (FLD) and the non-profit digital rights group Access Now found that the mobile phones of Ebtisam al-Saegh, a Bahraini human rights defender , and Hala Ahed Deeb, who works for human rights and feminist groups in Jordan, had been hacked using NSO’s Pegasus spyware.
Both women said the findings, which were confirmed by security researchers at the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, looked like life-changing privacy breaches, underscoring how such attacks on women were “particularly serious” given how sensitive information could be weaponized against them. .
“Since discovering that their phones were infected, they each live in a daily state of anxiety and fear. They are particularly afraid of the possibility of exposing other activists and victims they work with, and fear that their families and friends are now in danger,” FLD and Access Now said.
According to Citizen Lab’s analysis, al-Saegh’s mobile device was found to have been hacked at least eight times between August and November 2019 using NSO spyware. This followed various incidents in which al-Saegh, who works for Salam for Democracy and Human Rights, was harassed by Bahraini authorities, including being summoned to Muharraq police station, interrogated, physically assaulted and sexually and threatened with rape if she did. not stop his activism, FLD and Access Now said.
Al-Saegh said knowing she had been hacked put her in a state of “daily fear and dread” and robbed her of a sense of security she had felt at home, as she felt now that her phone was “spying” on her at all times.
“Home was the only safe space for me, a place of personal freedom where I could remove the veil and exercise my religious and social freedoms without limits,” she said in a statement shared by FLD. “Fear has limited my work. I am constantly anxious and afraid that I have put others in danger because of their contact with me.
When successfully deployed against a mobile phone, Pegasus can intercept a mobile user’s messages and photos, track their location, and turn the phone into a remote listening device.
NSO said its software is licensed for use by client countries against suspected terrorists and other serious criminals, and that it investigates credible allegations of abuse by its clients.
An NSO spokesperson said: ‘We cannot directly comment on a report we have not seen, nor investigate based on names received in a press enquiry.
The spokesperson added: “NSO’s strong position on these issues is that the use of cyber tools to monitor dissidents, activists and journalists, regardless of gender, is a serious misuse of any technology. and goes against the desired use of these critical tools.. The international community should have a zero tolerance policy towards such acts, so global regulation is needed. NSO has proven in the past that it has a zero tolerance for these types of abuse, by terminating multiple contracts.
The discovery of spyware on the phones of the two activists follows multiple reports from other activists and journalists who have been targeted in the past, including deceased Emirati activist Alaa Al-Siddiq and Al Jazeera journalist Ghada Oueiss.
Researchers confirmed that Deeb’s mobile device was infected with Pegasus in March 2021. Deeb said the hack made her feel “violated, naked and without dignity”.
“I have often said that I have nothing to hide, but I have realized that privacy in itself is my right,” she said in a statement shared by FLD.
She added: “I don’t communicate with my friends and I avoid talking on the phone as much as possible. I practice a kind of self-censorship sometimes when I wonder what behaviors would provoke those who hacked my phone?