Israel-Hamas war: Pegasus makers, other blacklisted spyware firms roped in to track hostages in Gaza | Mint
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Business News/ News / World/  Israel-Hamas war: Pegasus makers, other blacklisted spyware firms roped in to track hostages in Gaza
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Israel-Hamas war: Pegasus makers, other blacklisted spyware firms roped in to track hostages in Gaza

Israel’s security services are pulling in spyware companies, including the maker of the controversial Pegasus software, to help track hostages in the Gaza Strip, people familiar with the matter said.

Israel is taking help from Pegasus makers to locate hostages. (Photo: iStock)Premium
Israel is taking help from Pegasus makers to locate hostages. (Photo: iStock)

Since its ghastly attack on Israel, Hamas has kept hundreds of Israelis including foreigners captive in Gaza. In a major development, Israeli security forces have roped in spyware firms like Pegasus maker to track hostages in the Gaza strip, reported Bloomberg citing sources. 

Along with Israel, countries like Italy and the US are also keen to bring back the hostages before negotiating on ceasefire in the ongoing war. However, firms like NSO Group and Candiro, both of which are blacklisted by the US, are being asked to quickly upgrade their spyware capabilities to meet needs laid out by the country's security forces, four cybersecurity industry sources told BB. The news was also confirmed by an Israeli government official.

The two firms, along with several other software firms, are collaborating on the requests and largely offering their services for free, sources told BB on request of anonymity. Till now there has been no official confirmation by the Defense Ministry on the news. Moreover, the Israeli Defense Forces and NSO also declined to comment. 

The other US-blacklisted firm, Candiru, offered to assist the war effort in any way needed, the company said in a statement on Thursday. Hamas militants have held more than 200 people captive in Gaza. The recent level of violence in Gaza has led to broad support for an invasion. Whereas, the Western governments are pushing for more negotiations, and US President Joe Biden asked PM Benjamin Netanyahu to pause the ground offensive for the safety of hostages on Wednesday. 

Other hostage rescue possibilities for Israel

Since the beginning of the war, Israel has been trying to bring back hostages via diplomatic routes with the help of Qatar and Egypt. As the efforts are yielding no result, Israel has been discussing other hostage-rescuing possibilities with other governments which have offered intelligence and expertise on how to extract people.

More than half of the hostages have foreign passports, including agriculture workers, visitors, and people with dual citizenship. Four hostages have been freed since the fighting began. The surprise attack by Hamas on October 7 that took lives of more than 1,400 innocent Israelis, mostly civilians. The surprise assault by Hamas, which is designated as a terrorist organization by the US and European Union, marked the deadliest-ever strike on Israel. 

Since the attack, Israel has responded with heavy air bombardments on Gaza, killing thousands of Palestinians according to the Health Ministry in the Hamas-run enclave. Israel's preparation to launch a ground invasion of Gaza has sparked fear among Palestinians of another ethnic cleansing.

About NSO's Pegasus software

Earlier, the US sanctioned NSO and Candiro for helping authoritarian regimes track journalists and dissidents. NSO's Pegasus software is sold to governments and law enforcement agencies. Governments use this software to hack into mobile phones and covertly record emails, phone calls, and text messages. 

Amnesty International, Citizen Lab, and Forensic Architecture in 2021 documented the use of spyware in more than 60 cases to target government critics in countries including Rwanda, Togo, Spain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Morocco, and India. Several reports also suggested the use of Pegasus software by the Indian government. The US Commerce Department blacklisted NSO and Candiru that year, banning them from receiving export contracts from American companies.

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Published: 26 Oct 2023, 08:58 PM IST
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