Spain says government's mobile phones were tapped with Pegasus

Spain says government's mobile phones were tapped with Pegasus

Spain said on Monday that the mobile phones of Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Defence Minister Margarita Robles were tapped using Pegasus spyware in an illegal and external intervention.

A senior official said their phones were infected last year by software owned by the Israeli-based firm NSO, which is the target of numerous investigations around the world.

They are facts of enormous gravity and not a supposition, said Felix Bolanos, minister of the presidency.

We are absolutely certain that it was an external attack. In a democracy like ours, all such interventions are carried out by official bodies and with judicial authorisation, he said.

In this case, neither of the two circumstances prevailed, which is why we have no doubt that it was an external intervention. Bolanos said that they wanted the judiciary to investigate.

He did not say whether the Spanish authorities had any indications yet where the attack originated or whether another country was behind it.

Bolanos said that Sanchez's phone had been tapped in May 2021 and Robles' in June of the same year.

He said that a determined amount of data was extracted from both phones.

There is no evidence that there was other tapping after those dates. The El Pais newspaper said that the hackers extracted 2.6 gigabytes of information from Sanchez's phone and nine megabytes from Robles' phone, but the government still doesn't know the nature of the stolen information and the degree of sensitivity. The attack targeted their work phones provided by the state, not their private phones.

Bolanos said that experts were checking whether other members of the Spanish government were targets of spying involving Pegasus.

He said the government has filed a complaint with a Spanish high court tasked with major national and international cases, which have included terrorism in the past, in order to bring the full facts to light.

Pegasus spyware infiltrates mobile phones to extract data, or activate a camera or microphone to spy on their owners.

Israel-owned NSO Group, which owns Pegasus, claims that the software is only sold to government agencies to target criminals and terrorists, with the approval of Israeli authorities.

Global rights groups have been criticised for violating users' privacy around the world and it faces lawsuits from major tech firms such as Apple and Microsoft.

Amnesty International, the London-based human rights group, said the software has been used to hack up to 50,000 mobile phones worldwide.

Catalan separatists have accused Spain's intelligence services of using spyware to spy on their mobile phones, which has revived tensions with Sanchez's minority leftist government, which relies on their support to pass legislation.

Canada's Citizen Lab group said last month that at least 65 people linked to the Catalan separatist movement had been targets of Pegasus spyware in the wake of a failed independence bid in 2017.

Former and current Catalan regional leaders were among those targeted by the controversial spyware.