According to her lawyers, the Israeli-based NSO Group terminated a deal with the United Arab Emirates to utilize its powerful “Pegasus” state spyware technology because Dubai’s ruler was using it to hack the phones of his ex-wife and others close to her.
The UAE’s vice president and prime minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, ordered the hacking of six phones belonging to Princess Haya bint al-Hussein, her lawyers, and security team, England’s High Court found on Wednesday.
Last year, the hacking occurred during the couple’s multi-million dollar custody fight in London over their two children.
During the hearings, the court heard that NSO had terminated its contract with the UAE due to a violation of the UAE’s guidelines regarding the usage of Pegasus, a sophisticated “wiretap” technology intended to gather data from the mobile devices of specified suspected significant criminals or terrorists.
Haya’s hacking and that of her associates, including her lawyer Fiona Shackleton, a member of the House of Lords, was discovered at the beginning of August last year.
According to documents and evidence presented to the court, a cyber specialist investigating the use of Pegasus against a UAE activist discovered the phones were being hacked and passed on the information.
A whistleblower informed NSO of the fact that the spyware was being utilized to attack Haya and her legal team at the same time. Following repeated accusations that the spyware was being used by governments to illegally target human rights activists, journalists, and politicians, NSO’s Pegasus has become the focus of international attention in recent months.
WhatsApp sued NSO in October 2019, alleging it of assisting government spies in breaking into the phones of about 1,400 users across four continents, with diplomats, political dissidents, and high government officials among the targets. According to the source, the company had roughly 45 customers but had declined to do business with 90 others because they couldn’t trust them on human rights problems.