NSO terminated Pegasus contract with UAE following hack of Dubai leader

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Prime Minister and Vice President of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum attends the World Women’s Forum in Dubai, United Arab Emirates on February 16, 2020. REUTERS / Christopher Pike / File Photo

  • NSO terminated Pegasus contract after hack revealed – court
  • Israeli company says it won’t tolerate software abuse
  • Canceled contracts cost the company $ 300 million

LONDON, October 6 (Reuters) – Israeli group NSO terminated its contract with the United Arab Emirates to use its powerful state spyware tool “Pegasus” after the Dubai ruler was using it to hack phones of his ex-wife and some of his relatives. to her, her lawyers have declared in the High Court of England.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, ordered the hacking of six phones belonging to Princess Haya bint al-Hussein, her lawyers and her security team, the High Court ruled of England in a judgment released on Wednesday. Read more

The hack took place last year during the couple’s ongoing multi-million dollar custody battle in London over their two children.

During the hearings, the court heard that NSO had canceled its contract with the United Arab Emirates for breaking its rules on the use of Pegasus, a sophisticated “wiretapping” system used to collect data from devices. motives of criminals or suspected terrorists.

“Whenever a suspicion of misuse arises, NSO investigates, NSO alerts, NSO terminates,” said NSO, which only licenses its software to government intelligence and law enforcement agencies, in a press release after the publication of the decisions.

He said he closed six systems of old customers, contracts worth more than $ 300 million. NSO did not go into details.

The sheikh rejected the court’s findings, saying they were based on an incomplete picture.

“I have always denied the allegations made against me and I continue to do so,” he said in a statement.

The hack of Haya and her relatives, including her lawyer Fiona Shackleton, a Member of the British House of Lords, was revealed in early August last year.

A cyber expert investigating the possible use of Pegasus against an activist in the UAE realized the phones were hacked and passed the information on, according to documents and evidence delivered to the court.

At the same time, NSO was alerted by a whistleblower that the software was being misused to target Haya and her legal team, a source close to the company told Reuters.

He immediately informed Cherie Blair, a prominent British lawyer hired by NSO to work as an external human rights adviser, to send the princess a warning.

Within two hours, the company shut down the customer’s system and then blocked any other customers from being able to use Pegasus to target UK numbers, a measure still in effect today, the source said.

PROBLEM

Blair, wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, said in a court statement: “During a conversation with the CEO of the ONS, I remember asking him if their client was the big one or the small state, the director clarified that it was the small state that I took for the state of Dubai. “

She told Shackleton that NSO immediately stopped the country involved using Pegasus and demanded responses.

“Cherie Blair said if they weren’t using the software to find real terrorists, they had a problem,” Haya’s lawyer Charles Geekie told the court. “Her client didn’t want to be connected to this type of behavior and wanted to help.”

In a letter to court on December 14 last year, NSO said it canceled its contract with its client, which the company refused to identify.

“As the December 2020 letter from NSO makes clear, after its investigation, NSO adopted the extreme recourse of terminating the use of the Pegasus software by its customer,” said Justice Andrew McFarlane, division president. of the family in England and Wales, in its decision.

“In business terms, this step should be understood as being of great importance.”

In recent months, NSO’s Pegasus has become the center of international attention following several reports that spyware is being used by governments to illegally target human rights activists, journalists and politicians.

In October 2019, WhatsApp sued NSO, accusing it of aiding government spies into the phones of around 1,400 users on four continents, targeting diplomats, political dissidents and senior officials.

The company had around 45 countries as customers, but had refused to do business with 90 others because it could not trust them on human rights issues, the source said.

Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Mike Collett-White

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