Written by Staff Writer
Left to right: A Palestinian protester burns a mock Israeli flag in solidarity with the Gaza Strip refugees at the memorial day in Ramallah on Monday. Credit: Alaa Ramallah/AP
Palestinian rights groups on Monday accused a U.S.-based aid organization of supplying telecommunications companies in the occupied West Bank with spying software known as Pegasus.
Amnesty International and several Palestinian human rights groups alleged that Pegasus, which can be used to intercept cellphone conversations, can be delivered to service providers using equipment sold by Israeli company Elbit Systems
“There is a known history of (Israeli) technology being exported and used to facilitate human rights abuses,” says Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Amnesty International.
“Given the widespread use of Israel’s latest weapon, we are now more worried than ever that civilians in Palestine and beyond are in real danger.
“We can’t know for sure that this technology is being used in Palestine, but we know it is being exported to Palestinians.”
According to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, the virus is being used in Israel and the occupied West Bank, most likely by members of the Israeli military.
A Palestinian protester holds a poster of Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman at the Gaza border. Credit: GALI TIBBON/AFP/Getty Images
The Palestinian human rights groups said Elbit Systems recently sold Pegasus systems to various service providers in the West Bank, including Vodafone, the largest telecommunications company in Palestine.
A source close to Elbit Systems told CNN that the company has not been in contact with its customers and said it had no knowledge of use of the software by Israeli security forces in the occupied West Bank.
“To date, no company customer has told us they are using Elbit Systems’ technology, and in fact the company has had no contact with any of the governments in the region,” the source said.
“Elbit Systems has a very detailed vetting process to certify that products it sells do not violate human rights or other laws.”
A European Union-authorized export-control body called ESMA recently said it had opened investigations into recent export of Pegasus to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.
ESMA, which met a week ago, “noted the latest report in which the United Nations and civil society are raising concerns in relation to the sale of a surveillance device known as Pegasus, supplied by Elbit Systems, to the Israeli Defense Forces,” it said in a statement.
“ESMA is examining whether the recent export of Pegasus to the occupied Palestinian territories, including the threatened sale to the armed forces of Israel, has infringed EU Regulation on the Design, Development and Use of Data Surveillance System, (EU DCDS).”
Placing covert chips
Pegasus is a cyberweapon developed by Israel’s Intelligence Branch of its Defense Ministry.
According to a 2017 paper produced by Columbia University’s Center for the Study of the Drone, Pegasus allegedly injects a host of special malicious programs into hardware platforms, including pre-packaged software and hardware.
The techniques deployed by Israeli hackers, also called Nation-State Cyber Espionage (NSCES), are too sophisticated to fit inside ordinary smart chips.
Networks infected with Pegasus programs are then activated via covert switches, morphing from standard software on a smartphone or some other device to full malware capable of performing a host of actions, including the monitoring of communications.
Since Elbit Systems created its proprietary content-protection technology in 2012, Pegasus has been leaked to the public, with the security firm CrowdStrike providing analysis on the malware.
According to CrowdStrike, Pegasus is “built on advanced malware technology from Elbit Systems’s National Computer Network Security Agency.”
According to a 2017 study by Human Rights Watch, the Pegasus software allows an attacker to install and run scripts, commands, and tools on computers and devices; intercept and record audio and video conversations, including voice and video calls; and control cameras and microphones of devices that use Skype, Google Hangouts, and WhatsApp, among other internet services.
On Monday, Amnesty International joined the International Committee of the Red Cross in a letter to the Trump administration warning that the export of Pegasus tools to the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip could jeopardize the lives of civilians.
“We call upon the administration to immediately review the sale of these aircraft and associated equipment to Israel, and to take the necessary measures to end their misuse for illegal purposes,” the ICRC and Amnesty International wrote.
Earlier this year, Reuters reported that the United States and Israel have sent several billion dollars of defense contracts to Elbit, which manufactures aircraft and weapons systems.