Jordanian official demands probe into hacking using Israeli spyware

Calls for investigation follow reports some 200 Jordanians' phones hacked, including royal court members and activists; top lawmaker says Jordan never purchased NSO's spyware, alleges source of hacking outside kingdom

Daoud Kuttab/The Media Line |
Published: 02.14.22, 17:19
A senior Jordanian official has called on his government to create a committee to investigate the phone hacking of nearly 200 Jordanian activists, journalists, human rights activists, and even government officials — believed to have been carried out using Israeli-developed spyware.
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  • Senator Mustafa Hamarneh, a member of Jordan’s elite upper house — often called the King’s Council — and a former director of the University of Jordan’s Center for Strategic Studies, said Monday that the hacking attack is worrisome and answers are needed.
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    טלפון נייד על רקע לוגו NSO
    טלפון נייד על רקע לוגו NSO
    (Photo: AFP)
    “What is needed is an investigative commission that can find ways to defend our basic human rights and our privacy, which is guaranteed by the constitution, the official said.
    "It should investigate this issue now that it has become public knowledge. The government can ask Apple for the list and what they know about this hacking. These are questions that need to be answered,” he said.
    Hamarneh appears to dismiss any domestic role in the hacking.
    “I am told that the Jordanian government has never bought this Pegasus software and the fact that the royal court and the Olympic committee’s phones were hacked means that this is most likely an outside effort that probably even included His Majesty’s phone,” Hamarneh said, referring to the Israeli cybersecurity company NSO’s Pegasus spyware that reportedly has been used by certain governments around the world to spy on human rights activists, politicians and journalists.
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    עבדאללה מלך ירדן
    עבדאללה מלך ירדן
    Jordan King Abdullah II
    (Photo: MCT)
    The Jordanian public has been abuzz with the story after the popular website Ammon News revealed that among the 80,000 phones that were hacked by Pegasus were 200 Jordanian phones.
    Samir Hiari, the publisher of Ammon News said that his journalists began looking into the issue after being contacted by an investigative journalist from a major international news agency.
    He said that his team was able to determine from sources that “a little bit less than 200 — among them royal court and Olympic committee members and activists — were victims of the hacking, which included scrapping everything on their phones, including WhatsApp content, messages, photos, videos, and text messages.”
    Hamarneh added that he ignored a warning that came to him from Apple about a potential security breach last November but paid attention to the breach when contacted by a Reuters journalist who was doing a report on the subject.
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    This studio photographic illustration shows a smartphone with the website of Israel's NSO Group which features 'Pegasus' spyware, on display in Paris on July 21, 2021
    This studio photographic illustration shows a smartphone with the website of Israel's NSO Group which features 'Pegasus' spyware, on display in Paris on July 21, 2021
    NSO's Pegasus software
    (Photo: AFP )
    “I received a note from Apple on November 11, 2021, and I didn’t pay attention because I have always known that I may be listened to. Then I got a call from an investigative reporter and he said that my phone has been consistently hacked and that they took my photos and WhatsApp and contact list by operating my mic and camera,” he said.
    Hamarneh said that the reporter informed him that couldn’t find a pattern in which Jordanian officials were hacked. “He said ‘you are the only one that is a prominent politician’ and that the list included a handful of human rights lawyers, bank officials, owners of companies, the Olympic committee, and even the royal court,” Hamarneh said.
    Deema Alam Farraj, a social media activist who goes by the handle @deema22 and has 419,000 followers on Twitter, said she was also contacted by Apple about a potential security breach and paid little attention to the alert at the time.
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    לימודי תכנות ואינטרנט
    לימודי תכנות ואינטרנט
    (Photo: Shutterstock)
    “I received the warnings from Apple and I didn’t pay attention to it. They told us that there was a problem and asked to reset the phone completely. Later Reuters called me and they said ‘your name is listed’ and this is what was shocking. What was strange is that I never thought someone would waste time, money and effort to hack my phone,” she said.
    Farraj complained that what upset her the most is the broad amount of information that was taken from her phone “My privacy was broken. I have nothing dangerous, but my personal issues, photos, videos and contacts were all hacked,” she said. “My rights were violated and I don’t know what to do. I don’t want people I talk to getting in trouble. This act of hacking my phone is totally unethical.”
    The social media activist said that the reason she announced that she was hacked is to protect herself even though she does not know who is behind it.
    “I hope that the government of Jordan defends me and all other citizens of our country. It was an unethical act and if you have a problem with anyone this is not the way to settle your differences. My biggest problem is that I don’t know who did this and who is against me. If I knew I would be at comfort and would know who is my enemy and would deal with it,” she said.

    Republished with permission from The Media Line.
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