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S. Africa: President among group of 14 heads of state selected as people of interest by clients of spyware company NSO Group

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‘Ramaphosa among leaders targeted in Pegasus spyware case, says report’ 20 July 2021

The phone of President Cyril Ramaphosa was on a list of potential targets for potential surveillance in the Pegasus spyware case. The UK’s Guardian newspaper reported on Tuesday night that the leaked database at the heart of the Pegasus project includes the mobile phone numbers of 14 heads of state and heads of government, including Ramaphosa, French President Emmanuel Macron and Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan. It said Ramaphosa appeared to have been selected by Rwanda in 2019. Macron was on a list of potential targets for potential surveillance on behalf of Morocco, Le Monde newspaper reported.

…The French presidency said that if the revelations about Macron’s phone were true, they would be very serious. The authorities would investigate them to shed all necessary light on the reports, it said. Le Monde said that, according to sources, one of Macron’s phone numbers, which he had used regularly since 2017, is on the list of numbers selected by Morocco’s intelligence service for potential cyber spying. Morocco had issued a statement on Monday denying any involvement in using Pegasus and rejecting what it called “unfounded and false allegations”. Moroccan officials could not immediately be reached for comment on the report about Macron on Tuesday.

An investigation published on Sunday by 17 media organisations, led by the Paris-based non-profit journalism group Forbidden Stories, said the spyware, made and licensed by Israeli company NSO, had been used in attempted and successful hacks of smartphones belonging to journalists, government officials and human rights activists on a global scale. NSO issued a statement on Sunday rejecting the reporting by the media partners, saying it was “full of wrong assumptions and uncorroborated theories”. Its product is intended only for use by government intelligence and law enforcement agencies to fight terrorism and crime, it said…The Guardian, one of the media outlets involved in the investigation, said the probe suggested “widespread and continuing abuse” of NSO's hacking software. It described it as malware that infects smartphones to enable the extraction of messages, photos and e-mails, record calls and secretly activate microphones.

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