Using Pegasus, a powerful mobile spyware, hackers can hijack private phones, phones leaked by Israel reportedly show

Written by Staff Writer: CNN

The group refused to comment on how it accessed the devices or what was used.

The latest claims of secret spying come as Syria gears up for peace talks with Israel, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, potentially revealing sensitive government documents.

Reuters obtained reports from the Departments of Defense and State on Syria that the group got by hacking their telephones.

The alleged staff actions at the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas follow a broader 2018 investigative series “The Phones of Trump’s Most Trusted Advisers” that found such victims in Iran, Turkey, and Bahrain.

Hamas has denied involvement in or knowledge of the cases but has not given an official response to CNN.

Disputed telecoms licenses

The Office of the Coordinator for Humanitarian Affairs has administered a different spectrum of international humanitarian agencies. It has operated a program with telecom provider Saudi Telecom (STC) that includes training on improving the safety of staff using their devices, the US State Department said in a September letter to Congress.

“This program is part of a broader effort to improve access to humanitarian information and communications technology (ICT) and has been extended to recipients in Syria,” the US stated in an email to CNN.

“It has always been the position of the Department of State, in coordination with State Department partners in Syria, that no US staff should be denied safe access to communication devices, equipment, or services.”

The program for staff of the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas started in 2016 and is only active in Syria, according to the State Department. “There is no evidence that this incident involved STC or STC personnel in other locations where Hamas has affiliated agencies,” the department wrote.

The Palestinian Workers Union, which represents Gaza’s workforce, told CNN it only has a contract with STC. They did not provide any documentation or evidence to back up its statement.

Representatives for STC did not respond to CNN requests for comment.

The State Department confirmed it confirmed to international partners that the members of the Palestinian Union “are only using the same service provider STC has been providing STC’s employees and other intergovernmental organizations” and “which STC provided them.”

Pegasus, which has become a favorite among foreign intelligence services, is widely believed to be a high-value target because of its highly personal nature.

“Pegasus sells commercially only and cannot perform surveillance,” the company said in a statement, in what it called “any insinuation that Pegasus is violating any human rights or even deliberately undermining the telecommunication infrastructure is patently false.”

The group’s malware was downloaded through the mapping of STC’s phones after its network was breached, said Sara Adatia, a security specialist and researcher for PCMag.

Saleh Hariri, a civil rights advocate who specializes in human rights and digital security who was one of the first to bring Pegasus to the attention of Washington, said countries can get clandestine access to computers using the spyware and have transferred spyware to governments and other private actors.

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