French Ministers Reportedly Issued New Secure Phones for Fear of NSO Israeli Spyware

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The website of Israel's NSO Group which features 'Pegasus' spyware, on display in Paris last week.
The website of Israel's NSO Group which features 'Pegasus' spyware, on display in Paris last week.Credit: Joel Saget / AFP
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Haaretz

President Emmanuel Macron and other senior French officials were issued new secure phones after Macron’s number was listed as a potential target in an investigation into multiple governments’ use of Israeli spyware to surveil a range of politicians, journalists and human rights workers around the world, Le Monde reported on Thursday.

According to the French daily, French officials were instructed to contact Macron only through the new secure devices in order to protect their communications from prying eyes.

Pegasus scandal: How the Mossad pushed invasive spyware to friendly dictators. LISTEN

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The report came on the same day that Le Canard Enchaine reported that French authorities had recently mulled buying surveillance software from Israeli cyber-espionage firm NSO before deciding to go with what one official called “the choice of sovereignty.”

According to the satirical newspaper, which is well-respected in France for its investigative journalism, recent reports regarding the Pegasus spyware, which is developed and sold sold by Israeli firm NSO, “panicked” French officials, who rushed to double-check if any of their agencies were also using the application. 

Within two days “we ended up being reassured” that the software wasn’t being used by France, the official stated, although Macron was unsatisfied with his security services’ explanations regarding the report that he was a potential Pegasus target.

Emmanuel Macron in Tahiti in French Polynesia this week.Credit: Ludovic Marin / AFP

Earlier this week, Le Monde reported that French security agencies are increasingly convinced that Morocco used Pegasus to target high-ranking officials.

According to the French daily, a forensic analysis of phones belonging to journalists, attorneys and politicians by cybersecurity firm LookOut found traces left behind by NSO's software, which was allegedly used by Morocco to surveil its interests in France.

The experts weren't able to analyze President Macron's phone, but found vestiges of Pegasus in phones belonging to a former minister and a former lawmaker. 

Macron has called for an official investigation into the spying allegations and asked Prime Minister Naftali Bennett for clarifications last week. Defense Minister Benny Gantz flew to Paris on Wednesday to discuss the growing scandal with French officials.

The news comes in the wake of the publication of a massive international investigation called Project Pegasus, led by an organization called Forbidden Stories together with Amnesty International and a consortium of newspapers and journalists across the world.

The investigation, based on leaked data, revealed a long list of high-profile individuals that were selected as potential targets for the firm’s Pegasus spyware by its clients. Haaretz participated in the global investigation, looking into the leak of some 50,000 phone numbers selected by NSO’s clients for possible targeting by its Pegasus spyware. Haaretz helped expose how NSO’s global success – boasting clients from Mexico to India, and even Rwanda – was premised on Israel’s “cyber diplomacy.”

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