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FIA, police spy agencies using Israeli hacking tools since 2012: report

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A man types on a computer keyboard in Warsaw on February 28, 2013. — Reuters
  • Cellebrite’s products allow hacking into password-protected cellphones.
  • Invitations for bids show police, FIA regularly use these systems.
  • The firm says it “does not sell to Pakistan, directly or indirectly”.

The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and other police agencies in Pakistan have been using hacking tools produced by Israeli cyber technology firm since at least 2012, a report published in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz revealed on Thursday.

The report said Cellebrite, the Israeli tech firm, products law enforcement agencies to engage in digital forensic work by hacking into password-protected cellphones and copying all the information stored on them – including pictures, documents, text messages, calling histories and contacts.

The Israeli newspaper quoted local media in Pakistan as reporting that in 2012 that the Sindh police had acquired a flagship product UFED Touch Ultimate devices made by Cellebrite, and their use has been expanding since.

The report further said that operating manuals, documents and official invitations for bids show that police and FIA regularly use these systems.

The report further said spyware connection between Israel and Pakistan has crossed decades, political parties and ruling administrations.

In 2021, the FIA issued a tender during the tenure of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government for the hacking devices, a period during which Cellbrite’s Singapore subsidiary continued to sell its products directly to Pakistan.

The report also said in May the Peshawar police also issued a tender for the acquisition of Israeli hacking tools.

In its response to this article, Cellebrite stated: “The company does not sell to Pakistan, directly or indirectly.”

It added that Cellebrite is committed to its goal of creating a safer world by providing solutions for law enforcement bodies that permit them to solve crimes more quickly.

“For that purpose, we have developed strict means of oversight that ensure proper use of our technology in the context of investigations carried out by virtue of the law. As a global leader in digital intelligence, Cellebrite’s solutions assist thousands of law enforcement agencies to convict those who endanger public security and to do justice to the victims of crime.”

In 2021, a collaborative investigation by The Washington Post, The Guardian, Le Monde and other media outlets revealed that an Israeli firm was involved in hacking tens of thousands of smartphone numbers, including activists, journalists, business executives and politicians around the world.

The investigative report said then-prime minister Imran Khan’s number was also targeted by the NSO Group and its Pegasus malware, which is capable of switching a phone’s camera or microphone on and harvesting its data.

Israel’s Haaretz earlier reported that India targeted a phone which was earlier in then-PM Khan’s use, through the malware.

Reacting to the reports, Pakistan had called on the relevant United Nations bodies to thoroughly investigate India’s use of Israeli spyware against Khan and others.

“We have noted with serious concern in recent international media reports exposing Indian government’s organised spying operations against its own citizens, foreigners as well as then-premier Khan, using an Israeli origin spyware,” the Foreign Office in a statement on July 23, 2021.



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