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Prominent Jordanians among hundreds in country reportedly hacked by Israeli spyware

Ammon News says officials at Royal Hashemite Court, Olympic committee, as well as senator, activist, and wife of murdered Saudi journalist targeted

Illustrative: Human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor shows Associated Press journalists a screenshot of a spoof text message, used to attempt to hack him, in Ajman, United Arab Emirates, August 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)
Illustrative: Human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor shows Associated Press journalists a screenshot of a spoof text message, used to attempt to hack him, in Ajman, United Arab Emirates, August 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)

Officials in Jordan’s royal court were among some 200 people in the country whose phones were hacked with technology made by Israeli spyware companies, an Amman-based news site, reported Thursday.

Members of the Royal Hashemite Court, the Olympic committee, as well as a senator, a human rights activist, and a wife of slain Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi were targeted by two Israeli firms, according to Ammon News.

Several Jordanians told the news site that their iPhones were hacked, citing notices they received informing them of the hack. It was not clear who they were notified by.

“Informed” American sources told Ammon News that of some 8,000 phones around the world hacked by the Israeli companies, 200 were Jordanian.

The Israeli firms behind the alleged spyware were not named in the report, but previous reports in Western media have claimed that in the lead up to Khashoggi’s 2018 murder, phones belonging to his wife Hanan Elatr’s were hacked by the United Arab Emirates using the Pegasus spyware program developed by Israeli firm NSO Group.

Khashoggi, a vocal critic of Riyadh, was also reportedly hacked with Pegasus spyware before being killed during a visit to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

The activist, Hala Ahed Deeb, who works with human rights and feminist groups in Jordan, had been hacked using NSO’s Pegasus spyware, according to separate findings published by The Guardian last month.

Senator Mustafa Hamarneh told the news site he also received a notice saying his phone had been hacked between February 2021 and November 2021. The notice claimed that contact numbers, photos, WhatsApp messages, and emails had been targeted.

The US source cited in the piece did not know if NSO’s Pegasus was used for the hack, the report said.

Illustrative: A man holds his phone, with the NSO Group logo in the background. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

NSO says it sells its software, Pegasus, only to governments for the purpose of fighting crime and terrorism, and all sales require approval from the Defense Ministry. While it says it has safeguards in place to prevent abuse, NSO says it has no control over how a client uses the product and no access to the data they collect. It says it has terminated several contracts due to the inappropriate use of Pegasus.

The company has been involved in numerous scandals in recent years and has faced a torrent of international criticism over allegations it helps governments, including dictatorships and authoritarian regimes, spy on dissidents and rights activists.

It has recently drawn scrutiny in Israel following reports that police used the program to spy on over two dozen people, including politicians, senior bureacrats and members of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s family.

Reuters reported last week that an Israeli spy firm known as Quadream had exploited a flaw in Apple’s security to hack into iPhones. Five individuals with knowledge of the matter said Quadream gained the ability last year, around the same time as the NSO Group did, letting the two companies break into iPhones without the user needing to click any link to install the spyware.

Unlike NSO, Quadream has kept a lower profile despite serving some of the same government clients. A source familiar with the company told Reuters it has no website touting its business, and its employees have been told to keep any reference to their employer off social media.

Quadream did not respond to Reuters’ repeated request for comment.

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