Morocco: Human rights defenders harrassed by NSO Group malware as state cracks down on activists

An Amnesty International investigation has discovered targeted attacks against two human rights defenders in Morocco. Maati Monjib, an academic and activist working on issues of freedom of expression, and Abdessadak Ek Bouchattaoui, a human rights lawyer representing protesters in Morocco, were allegedly targeted through NSO Group's "Pegasus" software. The malware can be installed through SMS messages containing links which, if clicked, connect the phone to websites connected to Pegasus.

The harrassment comes as the civic space for human rights activists is shrinking, with Moroccan authorities using laws to criminalise and discredit human rights activists, restrict their activities and curtail their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.

Amnesty has found that state actors have been using Pegasus as a tool to do this since 2017, but their recent research also found that mobile networks are subject to attack. It suspects NSO Group's software may be behind this.

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Company response
22 October 2019

Response of NSO Group

Author: NSO Group

As per our policy, we investigate reports of alleged misuse of our products. If an investigation identifies actual or potential adverse impacts on human rights, we are proactive and quick to take the appropriate action to address them. This may include suspending or immediately terminating a customer’s use of the product, as we have done in the past.

While there are significant legal and contractual constraints concerning our ability to comment on whether a particular government agency has licensed our products, we are taking these allegations seriously and will investigate this matter in keeping with our policy. Our products are developed to help the intelligence and law enforcement community save lives. They are not tools to surveil dissidents or human rights activists. That’s why contracts with all of our customers enable the use of our products solely for the legitimate purposes of preventing and investigating crime and terrorism. If we ever discover that our products were misused in breach of such a contract, we will take appropriate action.

Article
10 October 2019

Human Rights Activist Allegedly Targeted With NSO Malware Says His Life Is ‘Hellish’

Author: Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai, Vice (Canada/ USA)

Hackers likely working for a government targeted two Moroccan human rights activists [Maati Monjib, historian and journalist, and Abdessadak El Bouchattaoui, a lawyer who represented a group of protesters in Morocco] with ['Pegasus'] malware made by the controversial Israeli surveillance vendor NSO Group...

Security researchers have found evidence that countries such as MexicoSaudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates have used Pegasus to spy on journalists, human rights activists, and dissidents...

“Subjecting peaceful critics and activists... to harassment or intimidation through invasive digital surveillance is an appalling violation of their rights to privacy and freedom of expression,” Danna Ingleton, Deputy Director of Amnesty Tech, said...

The company says it only sells to law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

Read the full post here

Article
10 October 2019

Morocco: Human Rights Defenders Targeted with NSO Group’s Spyware

Author: Amnesty International

Summary

  • Amnesty International has uncovered targeted digital attacks against two prominent Moroccan Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) using NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware...
  • ... we identified what appear to be network injection attacks against a HRD’s mobile network also aimed at installing spyware. Amnesty International suspects that the NSO Group may also be behind these network injection attacks.
  • These targeted digital attacks against two Moroccan HRDs  are symptomatic of a larger pattern of reprisals against HRDs and dissident voices being carried out by Moroccan authorities. This is increasingly making it difficult for HRDs and activists to exercise their rights.

Read the full post here