The Israeli government is deploying controversial surveillance spyware to help track individuals kidnapped and killed by Hamas terrorists last month.
Pegasus is a “zero-click” malware that can install itself remotely onto a person’s device, even with the target individual taking no specific actions themselves — like clicking on a phishing link or downloading an attachment.
Once installed, a third-party can access the device’s microphone and camera, listen in on phone calls, record passwords using a keystroke logger, read text messages, emails, and surveil a person’s location.
The spyware has already been used to hack the phones of activists, journalists, 14 heads of state, and hundreds of other government officials.
NSO Group is the Israeli company that makes the software. An unnamed source affiliated with the company spoke with Axios to reveal the government’s use of the program to try and locate victims of the attack carried out on Oct. 7.
The source said that Pegasus can tap into cell phone signals to assess who was on the ground during the attack, as well as the movement of those cell phones before and after the attack.
NSO has reportedly established a “war room” with companies who do similar work to track and unlock phones belonging to people suspected of being murdered or kidnapped, as well as the devices owned by suspected terrorists.
The source added that they’re unaware that the Israeli government has protections in place to prevent widespread surveillance of the entire Palestinian population.
“It’s not the purpose of why we’re doing it, but I think the people from the government — both in Israel and outside of Israel — and the public … now understand much better the value of these kinds of tools and why they are needed,” the source told Axios.
Last week, attorney Timothy Dickinson sent a letter to the U.S. State Department requesting a meeting with Secretary Antony Blinken to discuss using NSO’s Pegasus software in the aftermath of the attack.
“NSO’s cyber intelligence technology is a critical tool that is used to aid the ongoing fight against terrorists,” the letter reads. “It enables intelligence and law enforcement authorities to counter the widespread use of end-to-end encryption platforms by targeting specific individuals without engaging in mass surveillance or obtaining backdoor access to the devices of all users—a proportionate response limited to only those individuals where there is a reasonable suspicion, supported by evidence, that the target is involved in a terrorist activity or other serious threats to security.”