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Israeli spyware said used to hack senior Indonesian officials last year

Report says NSO Group’s ForcedEntry software was used to target more than a dozen government and military officials in Indonesia; NSO denies any involvement

The NSO Group logo is seen on a smartphone placed on a laptop keyboard. (Mundissima/Alamy)
The NSO Group logo is seen on a smartphone placed on a laptop keyboard. (Mundissima/Alamy)

Senior Indonesian government and military officials were targeted last year with spyware developed by Israeli security firm NSO Group, the Reuters news agency reported Friday, citing nine people with knowledge of the matter.

More than a dozen officials were targeted, the report said, including Indonesia’s Chief Economic Minister Airlangga Hartarto, several high-ranking military personnel, two diplomats, and advisers in the country’s defense and foreign affairs ministries.

They were targeted by “state-sponsored attackers,” Apple told six of the targets in emails sent out in November 2021, without providing additional information about the hackers’ identity or a possible motive.

The company added that the hackers used software called ForcedEntry, which was developed by NSO Group and allows attackers to directly infect iPhones and other Apple devices without any user action.

Apple declined requests by Reuters to comment on the report.

Citing cybersecurity experts, Reuters said the attempt to target the Indonesian officials was one of the biggest cases to date of the Israeli-developed software being used to hack government and military personnel.

It is unclear though whether or not the hackers were successful in gaining access to the officials’ phones and what information they may have obtained.

The Indonesian Foreign Affairs Ministry said it was unaware of the case.

Other Indonesian government bodies, including the Defense Ministry and the Indonesian Cyber and Crypto Agency (BSSN) did not respond to requests for comment, Reuters said.

Responding to allegations that its software was used in the hack, NSO Group denied involvement, saying it was “contractually and technologically impossible” for its software to be used to hack the Indonesian officials, without elaborating.

The company has stressed in the past that it only sells its products to “vetted and legitimate” governments.

A branch of the Israeli NSO Group company, near the southern Israeli town of Sapir, on August 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

In April, Reuters reported that several senior European Union officials were also targeted last year with NSO Group’s ForcedEntry software.

The report said that among four targeted European Commission officials was Belgian European Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders.

NSO Group said at the time that it was not responsible for the alleged hacking attempts described in the report, and added that it was in favor of an investigation into the matter.

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