A report by a Canadian academic lab has found that the Saudi government used Israeli-made Pegasus spyware to snoop on the phone of a prominent Saudi dissident living in Canada.
Pegasus is a spyware produced by the Herzliya-based NSO Group, an Israeli intelligence firm. Pegasus turns phones into listening devices and works by infecting “targets using Androids and iPhones by sending them specially crafted exploit links,” the University of Toronto-based Citizen Lab, which produced the report, explained. “Once a phone is infected, the customer has full access to a victim’s personal files, such as chats, emails, and photos. They can even surreptitiously use the phone’s microphones and cameras to view and eavesdrop on their targets.”
“We have high confidence that the cellphone of Omar Abdulaziz, a Saudi activist and Canadian permanent resident, was targeted and infected with NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware,” Citizen Lab wrote in the report, released Monday. “Abdulaziz has been outspoken on an ongoing diplomatic feud over human rights issues between Canada and Saudi Arabia. The targeting occurred while Abdulaziz, who received asylum in Canada, was attending university in Quebec.”
A report previously published by the lab on September 18 found that at least 36 governments use NSO Group’s products, likely including the Saudi Arabian security services.
By examining Abdulaziz’s phone, Citizen Lab found that the infection likely occurred in late June, when he was ordering protein powder online.
Toronto’s Globe and Mail newspaper reported that when Abdulaziz ordered some of the powder, commonly used by athletes to build muscle, he received a text message directing him to a package-tracking site. However, this link was a fake, Citizen Lab explains, and would have directed him instead to a website used by NSO Group to take over his — and many other — phones.
Contributed by Sputnik News Agency