Tel Aviv: The Israeli parliamentary review panel may recommend amendments to the implementation of defence export policies due to high allegations that spyware sold by the Israeli cyber firm NSO Group has been misused in several countries, a senior lawmaker said Thursday.
Among the alleged targets of NSO’s Pegasus software is French President Emmanuel Macron, who planned to convene his cabinet on Thursday for calls for inquiry.
“We must definitely look anew at the whole issue of licenses granted by the DECA,” Ram Ben-Barak, head of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, told Israeli Army Radio, referring to the government-controlled agency for defense exports.
Israel has appointed an inter-ministerial team to review reports published since Sunday following an investigation by 17 media organizations, which say Pegasus software was used in attempts to successfully hack smartphones targeting journalists, government officials and human rights activists should.
Other world leaders among the phone numbers who, according to news organizations, were on a list of possible targets include Pakistani Prime Minister Imram Khan and Morocco’s King Mohammed VI.
NSO rejected the media’s reporting as ‘full of false assumptions and unsupported theories’. Reuters did not independently verify the report.
TARGET TERRORISTS, Criminals
The Israeli government team ‘will carry out their checks, and we will surely investigate the findings and see if we have to rectify things here’, said Ben-Barak, a former deputy head of the national intelligence agency Mossad.
‘Truth be told, this system (Pegasus) has discovered many terrorist cells and criminal families and helped many people. If it has been misused or sold to irresponsible parties, it should be checked. ”
DECA is within Israel’s Ministry of Defense and oversees the execution of NSO. Both the ministry and the firm said that Pegasus is only meant to track down terrorists or criminals, and that all foreign customers are governments.
NSO says it does not know the specific identity of people against whom customers use Pegasus, but that if it receives complaints, it can obtain the target lists and unilaterally shut down the software for customers who abuse it.
After Army Radio also aired an interview on Thursday with Szabolcs Panyi, a Hungarian journalist who said Pegasus was found on his cell phone, NSO chief Shalev Hulio promised to investigate.
“If he was indeed a target, I can already assure you that we will cut off the systems of everyone who has acted against him, because it is unbearable for anyone to do such a thing,” Hulio told the station.
In line with the reluctance of the NSO and the Ministry of Defense on the identification of client countries, Hulio stopped confirming that Hungary had bought Pegasus. He said NSO has worked with 45 countries and rejected about 90 others as potential customers.
Hulio shut down five Pegasus systems for abuse, adding that the software could not be used against Israeli or American cell phones.
Asked on Thursday whether the Hungarian government had bought Pegasus, Prime Minister Viktor Orban, chief of staff Gergely Gulyas, said details regarding secret information gathering were not public information. He added that all this intelligence gathering took place legally.