Pegasus Spyware Used To Target British Prime Minister

A notorious spyware variant linked to multiple state-backed campaigns was used to target the UK Prime Minister’s Office over the past two years, researchers have revealed. Canada's Citizen Lab research institute at Toronto University, has engaged in tracking the use of the Pegasus spyware produced by Israel’s NSO Group.

Researchers at Citizen Lab have found evidence of surveillance software being present on devices associated with the British Prime Minister’s Office and at 10 Downing Street.

Their investigation found instances of surveillance software on devices linked to the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCDO) in its former incarnation as the Foreign Commonwealth Office (FCO). The spyware was deployed over the last two years

NSO Group, an Israeli company behind the creation of the malware, is being sued by WhatsApp and Apple after customers of the pair were targeted. 

Pegasus was also used to compromise the phones of US State Department officials and NSOGroup and fellow spyware producer Candiru have since been placed on a trade blacklist due to the widespread use of the malicious tools. Pegasus has reportedly been widely used to target government officials, journalists, human rights activists, businesspeople, and embassy workers. 

Citizen Lab stated that it notified the UK government of the suspected breaches after detected instances of infection within official UK networks.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is suspected of attempting to spy on officials working in the UK Prime Minister’s Office, 10 Downing Street. Citizen Lab also claimed that employees at the Foreign Commonwealth and Development office (FCDO) were targeted over the period, with Pegasus used by the UAE, India, Cyprus and Jordan. “Because the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and its successor office, the Foreign Commonwealth and Development office (FCDO), have personnel in many countries, the suspected FCO infections we observed could have related to FCO devices located abroad and using foreign SIM cards, similar to the hacking of foreign phone numbers used by US State Department employees in Uganda in 2021,” commenteded Citizen Lab director, Ron Deibert.

During their investigations, Citizen Lab also identified more than sixty people with links to Catalan civil society groups in Spain, who had been targeted or infected by the spyware. Others had been targeted with Windows surveillance software from Candiru, which has been developed by another Israeli spyware maker. While they couldn't attribute the attacks to a specific group the researchers found circumstantial evidence that suggested the involvement of Spanish authorities.

Britain is currently busy with legislative efforts to regulate its cyber policy, as well as redress for spyware victims.

In a statement, Citizen Lab said: “We confirm that in 2020 and 2021 we observed and notified the government of the United Kingdom of multiple suspected instances of Pegasus spyware infections within official UK networks. These included: the prime minister’s office (10 Downing Street) and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office… The suspected infections relating to the FCO were associated with Pegasus operators that we link to the UAE, India, Cyprus and Jordan."

"The suspected infection at the UK prime minister’s office was associated with a Pegasus operator we link to the UAE.”

“Given that a UK-based lawyer involved in a lawsuit against NSO Group was hacked with Pegasus in 2019, we felt compelled to ensure that the UK Government was aware of the ongoing spyware threat, and took appropriate action to mitigate it.” says the Citizen Lab.

Citizen Lab:     Euronews:    Oodaloop:   Infosecurity Magazine:    ITProPortal:    Guardian:   The Register

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