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Spanish authorities have detected ‘Pegasus’ spyware in the mobile phones of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Defence Minister María Margarita Robles Fernández, the government minister for the presidency, Felix Bolanos, said on Monday.

Bolanos told a news conference Sanchez’s phone was infected in May 2021 and at least one data leak occurred then.

He would not say who could have been spying on the premier and whether any foreign powers or Spanish groups were suspected of being behind it.

Spanish authorities have detected 'Pegasus' spyware in the mobile phones of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez (pictured)

Spanish authorities have detected 'Pegasus' spyware in the mobile phones of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez (pictured)

Spanish authorities have detected ‘Pegasus’ spyware in the mobile phones of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez (pictured)

Defence Minister María Margarita Robles was also a victim of the phone hacking, said the government minister for the presidency, Felix Bolanos, on Monday

Defence Minister María Margarita Robles was also a victim of the phone hacking, said the government minister for the presidency, Felix Bolanos, on Monday

Defence Minister María Margarita Robles was also a victim of the phone hacking, said the government minister for the presidency, Felix Bolanos, on Monday

‘The interventions were illicit and external. External means carried out by non-official bodies and without state authorisation,’ he said, adding that the infections had been reported to the justice ministry, and the High Court would be in charge of the case.

The announcement followed intense pressure on the leftist coalition government to explain itself after Canada’s digital rights group Citizen Lab said more than 60 people linked to the Catalan separatist movement had been targets of ‘Pegasus’ spyware made by Israel’s NSO Group.

After the allegations of spying on members of the Catalan separatist movement, the minority government’s key ally in parliament, Catalonia’s leftist pro-independence party ERC, said it would not support the government until Madrid takes measures to restore confidence.

The European Union’s data protection watchdog has called for a ban on Pegasus over allegations it has been abused by client governments to spy on rights activists, journalists and politicians.

The European Union's data protection watchdog has called for a ban on Pegasus over allegations it has been abused by client governments to spy on rights activists, journalists and politicians

The European Union's data protection watchdog has called for a ban on Pegasus over allegations it has been abused by client governments to spy on rights activists, journalists and politicians

The European Union’s data protection watchdog has called for a ban on Pegasus over allegations it has been abused by client governments to spy on rights activists, journalists and politicians

The Israeli firm NSO Group created the Pegasus software, which takes advantage of computer software vulnerabilities known as ‘zero days’.

A ‘zero day’ exploit allows hackers to gain access to software remotely, allowing groups paying for the software to gain access to confidential information.

The 2021 book on zero days This is How They Tell Me the World Ends by Nicole Perlroth, the New York Times’ cybersecurity reporter, details how the Israeli group sold the software to the UAE.

But there is evidence several other organisations and governments have also used the technology, muddying the waters over who could be targeting the Spanish government.

Saudi Arabia also appears to have gained access to the technology, after a report issued by the UN Special Rapporteurs suggested the Pegasus spyware was involved in the hacking of a phone belonging to former Amazon CEO Jeff Bazos.

The Rapporteurs said they saw evidence suggesting the Amazon founder was hacked after being sent video from WhatsApp account of Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The firm’s wares have been used by governments to target journalists in Mexico, opposition figures in Panama, human rights activists from the Middle East, and Michelle Obama.

Jeff Bezos' phone was allegedly hacked after receiving a video from WhatsApp account of Saudi prince Mohammed bin Salman

Jeff Bezos' phone was allegedly hacked after receiving a video from WhatsApp account of Saudi prince Mohammed bin Salman

Jeff Bezos’ phone was allegedly hacked after receiving a video from WhatsApp account of Saudi prince Mohammed bin Salman

The UN experts said Bezos’ phone hacking occurred during a period in which the phones of two close associates of Jamal Khashoggi were also hacked, allegedly using the Pegasus malware.

Khashoggi was killed by a Saudi hit squad in October 2018 after writing columns critical of bin Salman in the Washington Post, which Bezos owns.

In October, WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, sued NSO in the US federal court in San Francisco, accusing it of helping government spies break into the phones of about 1,400 users across four continents.

Targets of the alleged hacking spree included diplomats, political dissidents, journalists and senior government officials.

NSO has denied the allegations, saying it solely ‘provides technology to licensed government intelligence and law enforcement agencies to help them fight terrorism and serious crime’.

Amnesty International asked Israel to revoke the export licence of NSO Group 

Source: Daily Mail

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