Adware use on separatists in Spain “extensive,” group says | Know-how

MADRID (AP) — The telephones of dozens of pro-independence supporters in Spain’s northeastern Catalonia, together with the regional chief and different elected officers, have been hacked with controversial spy ware obtainable solely to governments, a cybersecurity rights nonprofit stated Monday.

Citizens Lab, a analysis group affiliated with the University of Toronto, stated {that a} large-scale investigation it had performed in collaboration with Catalan civil society teams discovered that no less than 65 people have been focused or contaminated with what it calls “mercenary spyware” offered by two Israeli corporations, NSO Group and Candiru.

Catalonia’s efforts to separate from Spain have lengthy been a thorn within the facet of Spanish governments.

NSO’s Pegasus has been used around the globe to interrupt into the telephones and computer systems of human rights activists, journalists, and even members of the Catholic clergy. The agency has been topic to export limits by the U.S. federal authorities, which has accused NSO of conducting “transnational repression.” NSO has also been brought to court by major technology companies.

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Citizens Lab stated its investigations into the use in Spain of Pegasus and spy ware developed by Candiru — one other Israeli agency based by former NSO workers — began in mid-2020 after a handful of circumstances additionally concentrating on high-profile Catalan pro-independence people have been revealed.

The group stated that it couldn’t discover conclusive proof to attribute the hacking to a particular entity.

“However, a range of circumstantial evidence points to a strong nexus with one or more entities within Spanish government,” Citizens Lab said on its website.

Spain’s Interior Ministry said that no ministry department, nor the National Police or the Civil Guard law enforcement bodies “have ever had any relation with NSO and have therefore never contracted any of its services.”

The ministry’s statement said that in Spain, “All intervention of communications are conducted under judicial order and in full respect of legality.”

Pegasus infiltrates phones to vacuum up personal and location data and surreptitiously controls the smartphone’s microphones and cameras. Researchers have found several examples of NSO Group tools using so-called “zero-click” exploits that infect targeted mobile phones without any user interaction.

Citizens Lab said that signs of a “zero-click” exploit not previously identified were found in infected devices of Catalans running on an older operating system at the end of 2019 and early 2020.

Among the targeted individuals were at least three European lawmakers representing Catalan separatist parties, members of two prominent pro-independence civil society groups, their lawyers and elected officials at various levels, including three former regional presidents, including Quim Torra while he was holding office.

Current Catalan President Pere Aragonès, whose telephone was additionally contaminated in response to Citizens Lab whereas he served as deputy of Torra within the 2018-2020 administration, stated that “the operation of massive espionage against Catalan independentism is an unjustifiable shame, an attack on fundamental rights and democracy.”

Aragonès said in a series of tweets that because the software can only be acquired by state entities, the Spanish government must offer explanations.

“No excuses are valid,” he wrote. “To spy on representatives of residents, attorneys or activists of civil rights is a purple line.”

Spain’s Ministry of Defense, which oversees the country’s armed forces and intelligence services, and the prime minister’s office didn’t immediately respond to questions from The Associated Press.

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