Amnesty: Moroccan human rights defenders attacked with NSO Israeli spyware

Two notable Moroccan human rights defenders were set on target through a surveillance software developed by the Israeli-based company NSO Group, the Amnesty Tech reported.

The report published by Amnesty Tech states that Maati Monjib, an academic and human rights defender, and Abdessadak El Bouchattaoui, a human rights lawyer known for representing demonstrators from the Hirak El-Rif social justice movement, have faced multiple hacking attacks since 2017.

Maati Monjib
Abdessadak El Bouchattaoui

Following a typical pattern, both men received SMSs that contained malicious links, which on clicking would privately install NSO Group’s Pegasus software in their smartphones. The spyware would enable the hackers to obtain almost full control of the phone. Last year, in June, same hacking technology was exploited to hack the phone of an Amnesty staff member and a human rights activist in Saudi Arabia.

NSO Group claims to sell its spyware only to government-linked law enforcement agencies for intelligence purposes. The latest hacking attempts raise serious concerns about the involvement of Moroccan security agencies behind the surveillance.

Danna Ingleton, Deputy Director of Amnesty Tech said, “Amnesty International’s research has uncovered chilling new evidence that further illustrates how NSO Group’s malicious spyware is enabling state-sponsored repression of human rights defenders.”

“Subjecting peaceful critics and activists who speak out about Morocco’s human rights records to harassment or intimidation through invasive digital surveillance is an appalling violation of their rights to privacy and freedom of expression,” Ingleton added.

NSO Group is a notorious Israeli startup whose key objective is to unethically break into the world’s most crucial operating systems for country state intelligence and police agencies.

In October 2019, Forbes revealed details of another Israeli startup belonging to the secretive community of hackers, Candiru, which one researcher says is selling hacking spyware to several regimes, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Uzbekistan.

The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights binds the NSO Group and its key investor, the UK-based private equity firm Novalpina Capital, to take urgent actions against the misuse of its surveillance software in causing or contributing to human rights abuses across the world.

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