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article imageAmnesty alleges 'hostile' government behind spyware attack

By AFP     Aug 1, 2018 in Technology

Rights group Amnesty International on Wednesday said it had been targeted by surveillance spyware in a suspected infiltration attempt by a government "hostile" to its work.

The group said one of its staff received a suspicious WhatsApp message by smartphone, containing a link that -- if downloaded -- would have installed Pegasus, a sophisticated surveillance tool developed by Israel-based company NSO Group.

The message, in Arabic, requested Amnesty cover a protest outside the Saudi embassy in Washington, in a week when the organisation was campaigning for the release of six women's rights activists detained in Saudi Arabia.

"An Amnesty International staff member has been targeted by a sophisticated surveillance campaign, in what the organisation suspects was a deliberate attempt to spy on its staff by a government hostile to its work," the group said in a statement.

Amnesty did not name the government it suspected of being behind the alleged attack.

Saudi Arabia has come under regular criticism by Amnesty and other groups for its rights record.

The kingdom, which has the third highest execution rate in the world, regularly arrests activists accused of criticising the government.

The message included a domain link, part of an infrastructure linked to more than 600 suspicious websites which previously connected to NSO Group, Amnesty said.

"Amnesty International is concerned that these could be used to bait and spy on activists in countries including Kenya, Democratic Republic of Congo and Hungary, in addition to the Gulf," the statement said.

NSO Group said in a statement to Amnesty it would investigate the report.

"Our product is intended to be used exclusively for the investigation and prevention of crime and terrorism," the company said.

"If an allegation arises concerning a violation of our contract or inappropriate use of our technology... we investigate the issue and take appropriate action based on those findings.

"We welcome any specific information that can assist us in identifying the responsible parties", the company said.

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