RICHMOND, Va. (Dispatches) – Nine activists from Bahrain had their iPhones hacked by spyware made by the Zionist regime’s company NSO Group, the world’s most infamous hacker-for-hire firm, a cybersecurity watchdog reported on Tuesday.
Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto said NSO Group’s Pegasus malware successfully hacked the phones between June 2020 and February 2021. Those reportedly hacked included members of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and two political dissidents living in exile. At least one of the activists lived in London when the hacking occurred, Citizen Lab said.
Citizen Lab said it has “high confidence” that at least four of the activists were hacked by the Bahraini regime, which has a history of using commercially available spyware.
One of the activists targeted is Moosa Mohammed, who said he was previously a victim of spyware in 2012.
“When I fled torture and persecution in Bahrain, I thought I would find safety in London but have continued to face surveillance and physical attacks by Persian Gulf regimes,” he said.
Bahrain, a tiny island kingdom off the coast of Saudi Arabia that’s home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, has a long history of suppressing dissent.
Anti-regime demonstrations in Bahrain have been held on a regular basis ever since a popular uprising began in mid-February 2011.
The participants demand that Al Khalifah relinquish power and let a just system representing all citizens be established.
Manama, however, has gone to great lengths to clamp down on any sign of dissent. The authorities have detained rights campaigners, broken up major opposition political parties, revoked the nationality of several pro-democracy activists and deported those left stateless.
NSO Group said in a statement that it had not yet seen the report, but questioned Citizen Lab’s methods and motives. “If NSO receives reliable information related to the misuse of the system, the company will vigorously investigate the claims and act accordingly,” the company said.
Citizen Lab found that in some instances the malware infected targeted iPhones without the users taking any action — what’s known as a zero-click vulnerability.
Bill Marczak of Citizen Lab said the exploits worked against a recent versions of the iPhone’s operating system, adding that there’s “no indication that the bugs exploited have been fixed.”
The new report is the latest unwelcome news for NSO Group. The firm was the focus of recent reports by a media consortium that found the company’s spyware tool Pegasus was used in several instances of successful or attempted phone hacks of business executives, human rights activists and others around the world.
Those investigations, based on leaked data obtained by the Paris-based journalism nonprofit Forbidden Stories and the human rights group Amnesty International, sparked widespread condemnation of the company.