Israel, France to handle NSO spyware case 'discreetly', Israeli official says

An aerial view shows the logo of Israeli cyber firm NSO Group at one of its branches in the Arava Desert, southern Israel July 22, 2021. Picture taken with a drone. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

JERUSALEM, Nov 1 (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett agreed with French President Emmanuel Macron that the alleged misuse of spyware developed by an Israeli company, including against Macron, would be handled "discreetly", an Israeli official said on Monday.

Israel has been investigating whether cyber firm NSO Group's Pegasus software, which can hack phones and according to the company is intended for vetted law enforcement and intelligence agencies, has been abused on a global scale. Israel's Defence Ministry oversees exports of offensive cyber tools such as Pegasus.

In July, several international media organisations reported that Pegasus was used in hacking smartphones belonging to journalists, human rights activists and government officials in several countries.

NSO has rejected the reports, saying they were "full of wrong assumptions and uncorroborated theories". Pegasus was intended for use only by government intelligence and law enforcement agencies to fight terrorism and crime, NSO said.

Macron's phone was on a list of potential targets for surveillance using the Pegasus software by Morocco, French newspaper Le Monde reported. Morocco has denied the allegation and said it did not possess Pegasus.

Macron has called for an investigation.

Bennett and Macron met in Glasgow during the U.N. climate conference and spoke about global challenges, with the Iranian nuclear programme at the top of the list, Bennett's office said.

An Israeli diplomatic official, who declined to be identified, said the issue of NSO was also discussed.

"It was agreed between the leaders that the subject will continue to be handled discreetly and professionally, and with the spirit of transparency between the two sides," the official said.

Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Alex Richardson

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