Whistleblower Edward Snowden has claimed that even American phone numbers could be subjected to spying using Pegasus malware, as he called out Israel’s NSO Group for claiming that its surveillance technology doesn’t work against smartphones based in the US.
“NSO's claim that it is 'technologically impossible' to spy on American phone numbers is a bald-faced lie”, Snowden, a former computer intelligence consultant with the US National Security Agency (NSA), tweeted.
NSO's claim that it is "technologically impossible” to spy on American phone numbers is a bald-faced lie: a exploit that works against Macron's iPhone will work the same on Biden's iPhone.— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) July 20, 2021
Any code written to prohibit targeting a country can also be unwritten. It's a fig leaf. https://t.co/1C25G2OUx8
In a follow-up tweet, the former American intelligence contractor explained that the NSO’s “country code targeting prohibition” could be easily bypassed.
How else can NSO's country-code targeting prohibition be bypassed? Simple:— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) July 20, 2021
1) Target a specially-prepared device *you control* in an eligible country code
2) Forensically capture each exploit stage as it's served to your trap device
3) Reverse it
4) Retarget anyone, anywhere https://t.co/Kr8AvdR7cH
Snowden says that the only solution to stop illegal surveillance using such spyware is to “ban the trade” altogether.
NSO has no way to know if anyone has done this in the past—or is continuing to do this right now. Exploit code can be caught and copied.— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) July 20, 2021
Just as with a biological virus, it takes just a single digital infection for the possibility of retransmission—and mutation. Ban the trade. https://t.co/Cv9xFUDetT
In an interview with The Guardian, Snowden claimed that “ordinary people” could do nothing to keep their phones from being hacked.
“There are certain industries, certain sectors, from which there is no protection, and that’s why we try to limit the proliferation of these technologies. We don’t allow a commercial market in nuclear weapons”, he told the British daily.
According to a joint investigation conducted by Forbidden Stories and human rights group Amnesty International, Pegasus has targeted more than 50,000 phone numbers in more than 50 countries since 2016.
The list of possible targets also includes phone numbers with the “+1” country code, including in the Washington, DC area. These reportedly include those of US’ Iran Nuclear Deal negotiator Robert Malley and United Nations (UN) diplomats based in the country.
Forbidden Stories has shared the details of the alleged surveillance operation with 16 news organisations globally, including The Guardian, The Washington Post, and Le Monde.
French news publication Le Monde has reported that Macron’s phone was identified as a potential target by the Moroccan intelligence service. Besides Macron, the NSO Group’s clients are said to have identified Iraqi President Baram Salih, South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa, and the prime ministers of Egypt, Morocco, and Pakistan as potential targets.
France has opened an investigation into the snooping claims.
In its defence, the NSO Group has said that its software was only intended to be used against criminals and terrorists. The Israeli firm claims that Pegasus has only been made available to vetted governments, law-enforcement, and intelligence agencies with good human rights records.