Key events in hacking of Palestinian activists’ phones

JERUSALEM (AP) — Revelations on Monday that six Palestinian activists had their phones infected with software developed by the Israeli hacker-for-hire company NSO Group came as Israel has ramped up pressure on civil society organizations it says are linked to terrorism.

Three of the six activists worked for Palestinian human rights groups that Israel designated as terrorist organizations last month. Israel says the groups are linked to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a leftist political faction with an armed wing that has killed Israelis.

The Palestinian rights groups say the terror designations are aimed at muzzling opposition to Israel’s 54-year occupation of territories the Palestinians want for a future state. They deny links to terror and have called for an international investigation into the hacking.

It’s not known who placed the spyware on the phones. Israel says there’s no connection between the terror designation of the six rights groups — which it says is based on solid evidence — and any alleged use of NSO spyware.

NSO Group says it provides tools to help security agencies fight crime and terrorism. It does not disclose its clients and says it is not privy to details about who they target. Its software has been implicated in the hacking of activists, journalists and other public figures across the globe.

Here is a timeline of recent events:

Oct. 16: The Al-Haq human rights group, one of the six organizations that would later be branded a terror organization, approaches nonprofit Frontline Defenders regarding phone hacking suspicions. A forensic investigation of a device reveals indications of the NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware.

Oct. 17: Frontline Defenders meets with other Palestinian organizations to inform them about the hacking and asks to investigate additional devices.

Oct. 22: Israel outlaws the six groups, saying they are a front for the PFLP. The groups are: Al-Haq, which was founded in 1979, as well as the Addameer rights group, Defense for Children International-Palestine, the Bisan Center for Research and Development, the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees.

Oct. 29: Frontline Defenders confirms six phones are infected with Pegasus software. The findings have been independently confirmed by Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto and by Amnesty International.

Nov. 3: The U.S. announces new restrictions on NSO Group that limit its access to American technology, saying the Israeli firm’s tools have been used to “conduct transnational repression.” The company says it will advocate for a reversal.

Nov. 4: Local media disclose a 74-page Israeli dossier on the Palestinian rights groups that was prepared in May and apparently aimed at persuading European donors to stop funding them. The dossier contains little concrete evidence and seems to have failed to convince donors.

Nov. 8: Frontline Defenders announces its findings. Palestinian rights groups condemn the phone hacking as an attack on civil society and call for an international investigation.

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