Israeli spy company tried to hack phones of Qatari residents, investigation reveals – Doha News

Israeli spy company tried to hack phones of Qatari residents, investigation reveals – Doha News

Rights groups have called on Doha to take urgent measures to protect citizens’ data.

A new investigation has found that Israeli security companies hacked the devices of Qatari residents through mass-targeted digital ads to collect users’ personal data, emails and phone numbers.

The survey, published by Eekad – an open source intelligence platform in the Middle East, tracked a series of suspicious digital advertisements for investments that frequently appeared on the social media platforms Instagram and Facebook.

The investigation found that online ads published by a site called Boom Social contained “malicious software” that could be implanted in the user’s device to collect their personal data or hack the device.

Eekad found that Boom Social’s Facebook page was linked to NovoShield, an Israeli professional cyber security company behind the websites.

“Digital analysis has proven attempts by professional Israeli spy companies to penetrate the phones of Qatari residents and collect as much information and personal data as possible,” Eekad said.

The ads targeted users aged 25 and up, and used images of prominent local media figures and influencers to gain credibility.

The ads claimed to be looking for potential investors and would go on to ask for personal data including email, phone number and the full name of the users who opened the link.

In a statement to Doha News, Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), described the breaches as deeply worrying.

“It is extremely disturbing to hear of reports that an Israeli company has gone to such lengths to hide its identity and use false advertisements to infiltrate and obtain personal information from Qatari citizens,” Whitson told Doha News.

She stressed the need to investigate Eekad’s findings to determine the possible role of the Israeli government in the violations.

“It is extremely important for the Qatari government to investigate this matter, determine whether the Israeli government knew or was involved in this attempted infiltration, and take urgent action to protect the privacy of the Qatari,” Whitson added.

Analyze similarities

The investigation began by analyzing pages on Instagram under the handles “trafficalarabiya” and “media_alarab1” that would share the ads in addition to local news and motivational phrases.

While the ads have also called for investment in Salik, an electronic traffic toll system affiliated with Dubai’s Transport and Communications Authority, Eekad was unable to confirm whether the UAE was involved in the hacks.

Similarities were discovered between the content shared on Instagram and Facebook, most of which were managed from the US with shared Emirati numbers.

β€œBy analyzing [the Facebook pages]it was revealed that the dense ads on Instagram pages are managed by Facebook to reach and target the citizens of Qatar,” Eekad said.

Israeli companies

Upon discovering the suspicious links managing the sites, Eekad found that both Boom Social and NovoShield were established in 2022.

NovoShield has two records in the US and Israel, and while it claims to be based in Tel Aviv, its official records appear in Haifa.

β€œThe Israeli company [NovoShield] creates a large number of pages with different commercial and media names, to hide their original identity and make it difficult to trace and find out who is behind it, Eekad said.

Citing his LinkedIn page, Eekad found that NovoShield is managed by four Israelis: Lior Keshet, Ofer Barsadeh, Bat El Azerad and Yinon Avraham.

Digging deeper into the Israeli company, Eekad concluded that NovoShield was linked to Wintago Systems Ltd, also located at the same address near Haifa.

“The Israeli company Wintago Systems provides intelligence solutions to hack devices and communications for security agencies, governments and military institutions,” Eekad said.

The investigation found that Wintago System was possibly behind the intelligence operations under the guise of NovoShield.

The findings echo other investigations that revealed Israel’s role in hacking the devices of individuals globally.

The most prominent investigation to date is the investigation into the Pegasus scandal that emerged in 2016. Numerous probes found that the Israeli NSO group’s spying program targeted activists, journalists and political leaders.

Al Jazeera employees were among the victims of the data breach and a lawsuit was filed in 2018 by the Qatar-based broadcaster’s journalists.

The Israeli hacking of Qatari citizens’ devices raises further questions about Tel Aviv’s motives, especially given the Gulf state’s vocal rejection of the occupation of Palestine.

In late 2020, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed the Abraham Accords, formally normalizing relations with Israel. However, Qatar did not comply and maintained its unwavering stance on normalization with Israel.

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