Pegasus: spyware hacked into dozens of European leaders, including Boris Johnson

The Pegasus malware is getting talked about again. According to an investigation, the virus designed by NSO managed to spy on dozens of European leaders, including British government officials. Boris Johnson’s office would also be among the targets of the attack.

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An investigation by Citizen Lab, a group of cybersecurity experts from the University of Toronto, reveals that Pegasus managed to spy on dozens of European leaders. Designed by NSO, a specialized Israeli firm, the software is capable of sucking up data stored on a phone without the knowledge of its owner.

Sold to governments, Pegasus has been used to spy on activists, journalists or politicians. It would also have infected the smartphones of five ministers of the French government as well as that of the Commissioner for Justice of Europe, Didier Reynders, in the past.

Several governments are accused of exploiting Pegasus

The new Citizen Lab investigation shows that Pegasus has recently been exploited in other espionage operations. Among new victims identifiedthere are many people linked to the Catalan independence movement, including three Catalan MEPs, lawyers, and candidates from several political parties.

Researchers accuse the CNI, the Spanish intelligence service, for having fomented the attack against the members of the movement for the independence of Catalonia. “In Spain, around 80% of smartphone users have Android, and this is reflected in the individuals we contacted.” points out Citizen Lab. The Spanish ministry quickly defended itself in a press release. “In Spain, all interception of communications is carried out under the regime of a judicial warrant and respects the law”, assure the authorities, specifying that they have never tied “relationship or contract with NSO”.

Pegasus also targeted smartphones belonging to the UK Foreign Office and the office of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. These phones have been hacked with Pegasus five times between July 2020 and June 2021, reveals Citizen Lab. The malware also reportedly took control of a phone in Boris Johnson’s office at 10 Downing Street. The UK government confirmed the attack without mentioning Pegasus’ involvement.

Also read: Apple files a complaint against the creator of Pegasus, the spyware that successfully hacked the iPhone

According to Citizen Lab, the United Arab Emirates is likely behind the spy operation targeting the Johnson administration. However, the group of researchers specifies that they are not “able to attribute with certainty the responsibility for these hacks to a specific government”.

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