Several hundred demonstrators rally outside the Azerbaijani Consulate General offices in protest over the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan in Los Angeles on November 1, 2020. Researchers accuse the NSO Group of using military-grade spyware against Armenia and others. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo
May 25 (UPI) -- Researchers on Thursday reported Azerbaijan and the NSO Group, a previous client of Azerbaijan, have used military-grade spyware to hack members of the Armenia civil society along with journalists, human rights activities and at least one United Nations official.
Researchers at Access Now, CyberHUB-AM, the Citizen Lab and others said they found the hacking campaign using the Pegasus military spyware appears to be connected to military conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the contested Nagorno-Karabakh region.
The hacking of individuals connected with Armenia was first found in November 2021, two months after the clashes between the country and Azerbaijan.
"The Armenia spyware victims include a former Human Rights Defender of the Republic of Armenia (the Ombudsperson), two Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Armenian Service journalists, a United Nations official, a former spokesperson of Armenia's Foreign Ministry (now an NGO worker), and seven other representatives of Armenian civil society," Access Now said in a statement.
"Circumstantial evidence suggests that the targeting is related to the military conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh (also referred to as the Republic of Artsakh in Armenia) between Armenia and Azerbaijan. This is the first documented evidence of the use of Pegasus spyware in an international war context."
The powerful Pegasus spyware, which can hack into and remotely control any phone, has never been documented in a military conflict.
"This investigation highlights the grave nature of spyware threats rippling across civil societies in Armenia and Azerbaijan," said Donncha O Cearbhaill, head of Amnesty International's Security Lab, which also participated in the research.
"The authorities must stop all efforts to stifle freedom of expression and undertake an independent and transparent investigation into the attacks with Pegasus uncovered in both countries."