Israeli-made spyware found on five French ministers' phones

Israeli-made spyware found on five French ministers' phones
2 min read
25 September, 2021
The spyware was detected by French security services, who believe that the ministers' phones were initially compromised in 2019 and 2020.
NSO's activities have come under increased scrutiny this year [Getty]

Israeli-made Pegasus spyware was found on the phones of at least five French ministers and a diplomatic advisor to President Emmanuel Macron, sources told AFP on Friday.

The ministers targeted were Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer, Territorial Cohesion Minister Jacqueline Gourault, Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie, Housing Minister Emmanuelle Wargon and Overseas Territories Minister Sebastien Lecornu, according to investigative website Mediapart.

"My phone is one of those checked out by the national IT systems security agency, but I haven’t yet heard anything about the investigation so I cannot comment at this stage," Wargon told L’Opinion on Friday.

A ministerial aide told AFP that  "the minister doesn’t have access to any state secrets, so we can’t really see the point of spying on her".

The spyware was detected by French security services, who believe that they were initially compromised in 2019 and 2020.

Pegasus, which was developed by the Israel-based NSO Group, allows hackers to harvest data, as well as switch on a phone’s camera and microphone.

NSO and its Pegasus spyware came under global scrutiny in July t when a media consortium exposed a list of 50,000 potential targets of the group’s spyware. At the time, it was reported that one of President Macron’s phone numbers and those of cabinet ministers were hacked.

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The revelations reportedly led President Macron to personally contact Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to demand that the allegations were properly investigated.

NSO has come under widespread criticism over reports that its flagship spyware product, Pegasus, has been misused by governments to spy on dissidents, journalists, human rights workers and possibly even heads of state.

Under international pressure, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid pledged further scrutiny of NSO’s activities earlier this month.

"We are going to look at this again," Lapid said. "We're going to make sure, or try to make sure to the extent of what is doable and what is not, that nobody is misusing anything that we sell."