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'Unlawful Intrusion:' Kazakh Activists' Mobile Devices Infected With Pegasus Spyware

December 09, 2021

Amnesty International says four Kazakh activists have had their mobile devices infected with Pegasus spyware in what it said further shows that the malicious software is being used by governments to try to "silence social movements and crush dissent."

Israel’s NSO Group became the center of controversy after an international media consortium in July reported that its Pegasus spyware was used in attempts to hack smartphones belonging to more than a dozen current or former world leaders, journalists, human rights activists, business, and executives, in some 50 countries.

Amnesty International’s Security Lab conducted forensic analysis on the phones of nine Kazakh human rights activists, and confirmed that four of them had their devices infected with Pegasus in early June, the London-based human rights watchdog said in a statement on December 9.

All of the victims belong to the civic youth movement Oyan, Qazaqstan (Wake Up, Kazakhstan).

Three of them -- Tamina Ospanova, Dimash Alzhanov, and Aizat Abilseit -- received a “state-sponsored attacker” warning from Apple in late November, meaning the U.S. tech company believed they may have been targeted by the NSO Group’s spyware, Amnesty International said.

The fourth victim, Darkhan Sharipov, did not receive this notification, which the watchdog said suggests that the notified individuals “represent only a fraction of the human rights activists targeted with the Pegasus spyware in Kazakhstan.”

Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, urged the Kazakh authorities to “immediately conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into this intrusion and bring those responsible for unlawful surveillance of activists to account.”

Meanwhile, Struthers said, states across the world “must immediately implement a moratorium on the export, sale, and use of surveillance equipment until a human rights-compliant regulatory framework is in place.”

Last month, U.S. authorities put the NSO Group on a trade blacklist, saying its software was behind the “transnational repression” carried out by some foreign governments.

NSO has said its Pegasus software is intended for use against criminals and terrorists and is made available only to military, law enforcement, and intelligence agencies.

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