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French finance minister says Pegasus spyware may have infected govt devices, including his own phone

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France’s finance minister Bruno Le Maire has revealed that authorities are probing whether Pegasus malware had infected government devices, after reports claimed that world leaders were being targeted using the Israeli spyware.

In an interview on Friday, Le Maire acknowledged that French investigators were looking into the possible security breach, which may have even extended to the minister’s own phone.

“We are in an investigation phase, and that includes my own device,” he told France Inter radio on Friday. He declined to provide more details about the ongoing investigation.

Earlier this month reports emerged that Pegasus, malware developed by Israeli surveillance firm NSO Group, had been used to snoop on high-profile individuals. The story led to allegations that Morocco’s secret services had used the spyware to snoop on several French journalists, as well as on French President Emmanuael Macron. Morocco has denied any wrongdoing. 

The scandal broke after a NSO-linked database of more than 50,000 phone numbers belonging to government officials, businessmen, NGO workers and journalists from around the world, believed to be a “wishlist” of targets for the spyware, was obtained by French media outlet Forbidden Stories and human rights group Amnesty International. Macron’s mobile number was reportedly included on the list. Subsequent forensic analysis determined that some of the phones in the database had been infected with NSO’s malware. 

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In a phone call last week, Macron urged Israel’s prime minister, Naftali Bennett, to ensure that his government “properly” investigates the matter, expressing concern that his phone and those of most of his cabinet may have been infected with the malware. 

The powerful spying tool allows its operator to harvest messages, photos and emails from any infected device, as well as to secretly record calls. 

NSO has denied the news reports about its malware, and accused journalists of spreading “uncorroborated theories” that are “based on misleading interpretation of leaked data from accessible and overt basic information.” The company stressed that its government clients undergo a thorough vetting process and that Pegasus is only used in counter-terrorism operations or to investigate other serious crimes. 

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