Lama Fakih. (Photo credit: AFP)
A Beirut-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) director recently discovered she was the latest victim of the Pegasus spyware, a malware that created by Israel’s NSO Group.
Lama Fakih, the Director of HRW’s Beirut Office, discovered in November 2021 that her phone had been targeted with the spyware. Her iPhone reportedly alerted her at the time that she was under a possible state-sponsored cyber attack.
Immediately after, HRW underwent an investigation, aided by Amnesty International’s Security Lab. The results of the investigation showed that Fakih’s cell phone was infected with NSO Pegasus spyware.
“At the time of the attacks, between April and July 2021, I was overseeing work related to a number of crises around the world,” Fakih said in a recent interview with HRW. “These included the hostilities between Israel and armed groups in Gaza that May as well as intensive work on an investigation into the devastating explosion at the Beirut port, which happened in August 2020, for which Lebanese government officials bear responsibility.”
While she acknowledged the timing of the cyber attack, she added that “there’s no way to tell if the attacks were related to my work at that time.”
Fakih also mentioned in the interview that an investigation by a French non-profit organization obtained a list of over 50,000 phone numbers as potential targets for the spyware, adding that her name wasn’t on the list.
She added that Daraj, a Lebanese non-profit media outlet, turned out more than 300 Lebanese phone numbers on the list.
“It is no accident that governments are using spyware to target activists and journalists, the very people who uncover their abusive practices,” she said. “They seem to believe that by doing so, they can consolidate power, muzzle dissent, and protect their manipulation of facts. This is the very dystopian reality that I and other rights defenders and journalists are fighting so hard to avoid.”