Pegasus is almost invisible: the most recent versions of the spy software from the Israeli company NSO hide in the temporary memory of Android phones or iPhones. But detecting it is not impossible: Amnesty Tech, the collective of hackers and researchers from the human rights association, has developed Mvt, the Mobile Verification Toolkit, a free and downloadable online tool that lets you know if the spyware has attacked your Android or iOS device.
While work is being done to make the tool usable even for beginners, as explained by the director of Amnesty Tech, Rasha Abdul-Rahim, the world’s political leaders are now forced to reckon with an issue that had been deliberately ignored, which until now had targeted activists and journalists from the global south: according to Le Monde, among the targets of the Israeli software (from the failed Lebanese premier Hariri to the Indian Khan, from South African president Ramaphosa to none other than Moroccan king Mohammed VI) and among the 50,000 leaked phone numbers, there is also the number of French president Macron, who was apparently targeted for surveillance by the Moroccan authorities.
However, The Guardian, one of the newspapers that carried out the mega-investigation on Pegasus led by the non-profit group Forbidden Stories, warns against jumping to conclusions: the fact that that number is on the list “does not mean that it has been successfully hacked.”
And while the French judiciary has opened an investigation into the accusations against Moroccan intelligence, the Israeli government is trying to take cover: according to the website Axios, a ministerial team consisting of the Ministers of Defense, Foreign Affairs and Justice and the Mossad has been set up to manage the diplomatic storm that is about to hit Tel Aviv, more or less behind the scenes.
Defense Minister Gantz has made it known that the government is “studying” the reports regarding the use of Pegasus in violation of the export license. This is how Israel will try to defend itself from accusations of complicity with the NSO corporation and with the foreign intelligence agencies that have used the spyware.
However, these accusations go far back, and come hand in hand with the economic diplomacy conducted by Tel Aviv, often involving authoritarian countries such as India, Hungary and the Emirates, with which Israel has initiated or strengthened economic and diplomatic relations in recent years.
To take just one example: as reconstructed by The Guardian, as early as in 2017, NSO was present at a series of secret meetings between Israeli businessmen and Saudi officials. Later, the latter bought Pegasus for $55 million, with the explicit permission of the Israeli government, which is granted through DECA, the Defense Export Controls Agency, which in theory has the legal tools to prevent the sale of surveillance products if there is a fear of human rights violations.
Obviously, the identity of the buyers of such tools is a state secret in Israel. Nor is it known whether the “hits” that Pegasus is used for abroad result in that information being visible and accessible to Israeli intelligence. That is, nobody knows for sure whether there is an agreement with NSO to disclose the information collected by the spyware on behalf of other buyers. However, according to U.S. sources who spoke with the Washington Post, the answer to that question is yes: Israel has access to everything Pegasus uncovers.