A lawsuit filed in Tel Aviv is laying bare the details of how an Israeli cyber company, called NSO, was allegedly using its spyware to help the Saudi government target Saudi activist Omar Abdulaziz, the CNN reports.
Abdulaziz claims that their software helped lead to the killing of his friend, Jamal Khashoggi, a former Saudi journalist.
Omar Abdulaziz, a Saudi national who resides in Canada, believes that the company used the spyware to secretly intercept messages between him and Khashoggi, and listen to voice messages on his phone.
The messages include details about how the NSO sent a link to his phone, which he argued, was used to expose information about his conversations with Abdulaziz to Saudi authorities.
Abdulaziz said he faced increased harassment from the Saudi government after clicking on the link. Members of his family were even detained in Saudi Arabia back in October.
In the messages sent to Abdulaziz, Khashoggi described prince Mohammed as a “beast” and a “Pac-Man” who would devour all in his path.
“The more victims he eats, the more he wants,” said Khashoggi in one message sent in May, just after a group of female human-right activists were arrested. “I will not be surprised if the oppression will reach even those who are cheering him on.”
In the messages exchanged between the two, Saudi officials were able to see that both men were planning to form an “electronic army” of young Saudis living in the country to try and move against the government, according to the report.
In early August, Abdulaziz found out that Saudi officials knew about their plan. Two months later, Khashoggi was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Israeli cyber company faces multiple lawsuits
It’s the latest sign of how cyber-espionage is increasingly being used to spy on citizens. In August, Mexican journalists and activists were being spied on using the same software designed by Israels’ NSO Group.
The human rights group, Amnesty International, has also accused the firm of spying on the organisation’s staff.
Abdulaziz’ lawyer, Alaa Mahjna, told CNN that the “NSO should be held accountable in order to protect the lives of political dissidents, journalists, and human rights activists”.
According to CNN, NSO responded to the accusation by saying: “There’s no evidence that the company’s technology was used. Furthermore, it contains details that are not based in reality.”
NSO added, “NSO is a technology company that is uninvolved with how our products are used once they are sold to our customers. This is a lawsuit based on sensationalist journalism that is unbound to reality in order to create headlines.”
In a statement, the Israeli software firm said that they use their technology to help governments reduce crime, and that it is fully licensed by the Israeli government.
“Our products have a long track record of assisting governments in preventing suicide bombers, stopping drug lords and sex traffickers, and helping safely return victims of kidnapping,” the statement said.
“If there is suspicion of misuse, we investigate it and take the appropriate actions, including suspending or terminating a contract.”