MADRID – Data downloaded from mobile phones used by Spain’s prime minister and defense minister has been infected with powerful spyware called Pegasus from an Israeli company, the government says. know Monday.
The revelation that Pegasus had approached the highest levels of the Spanish government expands the domestic political spying scandal, after a cybersecurity watchdog discovered that Pegasus had been installed on equipment of dozens of politicians from the pro-independence government of Catalonia.
Pegasus is a sophisticated and powerful surveillance tool, and while it has been used by dozens of governments to track down crime, terrorism and drug trafficking, developments in Spain will add to it. concerned that there were not enough checks to prevent its abuse.
Félix Bolaños, a minister in the Spanish government, said the hack represented an “illegal and external” intrusion into Spanish politics at a press conference, adding that the use of use of a spyware attack is “foreign” to any national authority and has not received any kind of judicial authorization.
Mr. Bolaños said: Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and Defense Minister Margarita Robles checked their phones for Pegasus spyware about a year ago, and Spanish authorities are trying to determine if the ministries whether chiefs and other high-ranking officials have been targeted.
Mr. Bolaños said that the national court, which has been charged with terrorism and other serious crimes, would investigate how Pegasus was used to spy on Spanish officials.
Pegasus is a software developed by NSO Group, an Israeli company, to help governments track criminal and terrorist activity. The software allows the user to monitor every aspect of the target’s phone – including calls, messages, photos and videos.
But its use has led to scandals in several countries, and last November the Biden administration blacklisted the NSO Group, saying it had knowingly provided spyware that had been found used by foreign governments to target the phones of dissidents, human rights activists, journalists and others.
“Although we have not seen any information regarding this misuse, and we do not know the details of this particular case,” NSO Group said in a statement Monday. , “NSO’s firm stance on these issues is that using cyber tools to spy on politicians, dissidents, activists, and journalists is a serious abuse of illegality. any technology and is contrary to the intended use of such critical tools. “
The announcement from the authorities in Madrid adds to a dispute over political espionage in Spain, which was revived with revelations last month that Catalan officials were being spied on.
Regional leaders demanded that the central government open an investigation into the use of Pegasus against Catalan politicians, including the current leader of the region, Pere Aragonès.
“All political espionage is extremely serious,” said Mr. Aragonès in a statement on Twitter. “We denounced it for days without any explanation from the Spanish government. When it comes to mass espionage against Catalan institutions and independence, be quiet and make excuses. Today, everything is in a hurry.”
The latest Catalan revelations are continued by a report from Citizen Lab, a cybersecurity watchdog organization at the University of Toronto that is investigating illegal surveillance practices around the world.
At the time, Citizen Lab also said it had found evidence of what it called “multiple suspected cases of Pegasus spyware infection in official UK networks”, including at the office. Prime Minister’s Office and Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
During an emergency press conference held on holidays in Madrid, government officials said that the prime minister’s phone was infected with the virus in May 2021 and that the defense minister’s device had been broken for a month. Later.
“These are facts, not assumptions,” Mr. Bolaños said. “We know that Pegasus software has been used illegally in 20 countries and governments are among the victims.”