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Israel tells France it takes NSO spyware allegations ‘seriously’ after defense ministers discuss Pegasus affair

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Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz has said the country is taking allegations around Pegasus spyware, sold by Israeli firm NSO, “seriously” after discussing the scandal with his French counterpart Florence Parly.

Gantz met Parly on Wednesday during a brief visit to France. Ahead of the talks, a French government spokesperson said Parly would “seize the opportunity” and grill Israel’s defense chief on his government’s knowledge about the Pegasus spyware, sold worldwide by Israeli company NSO Group.

The two parties were quite tight-lipped after their talks, with Gantz’s office only acknowledging that the issue was raised at the meeting. The defense minister “commented on the issue of NSO and told her that Israel is taking the allegations seriously,” it said in a statement.

“Israel grants cyber licenses only to nation-states and only to be used for the needs of dealing with terrorism and crime,” it added.

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The Pegasus spyware was first uncovered back in August 2016 after a failed attempt to infiltrate the smartphone of a human rights activist. That attempt was believed to have involved a spear-phishing approach to convince the targeted persons to click a malicious link, unknowingly enabling the software’s installation. The program is believed to have been further improved over time such that it could infiltrate victims’ phones covertly via device vulnerabilities.

The surveillance software made headlines again earlier this month, after a collective of 17 media organizations reported it was used on over 50,000 high-profile targets, including politicians, journalists and government officials worldwide by multiple parties. France’s President Emmanuel Macron was reportedly on the list as well, allegedly targeted by Moroccan spies with the software.

The media reports were based on leaked material obtained by the French investigative outlet Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International.

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The explosive allegations sparked a chain of international scandals, while NSO Group insisted the report about Pegasus was “full of wrong assumptions and uncorroborated theories.” The company also maintained the software is intended for use only by government intelligence and law enforcement to combat terrorism and crime, insisting it had no specific knowledge against whom its clients use the hack.

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