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Indonesian officials attacked by spyware: sources

More than a dozen top Indonesian government and military officials were targeted last year with spyware designed by an Israeli surveillance company, according to nine people with knowledge of the matter.

Six of the individuals told the Reuters news agency that they themselves were attacked.

The targets included Chief Economy Minister Airlangga Hartarto, senior military personnel, two regional diplomats and advisers to Indonesia’s foreign and defense ministries, according to the people.

Six of the targeted Indonesian officials and advisers told Reuters they received an email from Apple Inc in November 2021 telling them that Apple believed the officials were being “targeted by state-sponsored attackers.”

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Apple has not disclosed the identities or number of targeted users. The company declined to comment for this story.

Apple and security researchers have said that recipients of the warnings were targeted using ForcedEntry, advanced software that has been used by Israeli cyber-surveillance provider NSO Group to help foreign spy agencies take control of iPhones. remotely and invisibly. Another Israeli cyber firm, QuaDream, has developed a nearly identical hacking tool, Reuters reported.

Reuters was unable to determine who made or used the spyware to attack Indonesian officials, whether the attempts were successful and, if so, what the hackers might have gained as a result.

The previously unreported attempt to target Indonesian officials is one of the largest cases yet seen of the use of the software against government, military and defense ministry personnel, according to cybersecurity experts.

Spokespeople for the Indonesian government, the Indonesian military, the Indonesian Ministry of Defense and the Indonesian Crypto and Cyber ​​Agency (BSSN) did not respond to emailed requests for comment and questions.

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A Foreign Ministry spokesman said he was unaware of the case and referred Reuters to BSSN.

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Airlangga Hartarto, one of the main allies of Indonesian President Joko Widodo, did not respond to questions sent to him by Reuters, nor did his representatives.

The use of ForcedEntry, which exploits a flaw in iPhones through a new hacking technique that requires no user interaction, was made public by cybersecurity watchdog Citizen Lab in September 2021. Google security researchers reported it. they described as the “most technically sophisticated” hacking attack they’ve ever had. never seen before, in a company blog post published in December.

Apple patched the vulnerability in September of last year, and in November it began sending notification messages to what it called a “small number of users that it discovered might have been attacked.”

In response to questions from Reuters, an NSO spokesman denied that the company’s software was involved in the attack on Indonesian officials, dismissing it as “contractually and technologically impossible”, without specifying why. The company, which does not reveal the identity of its customers, says it sells its products only to “vetted and legitimate” government entities.

QuaDream did not respond to requests for comment.

In addition to the six officials and advisers who told Reuters they were being targeted, a director of an Indonesian state-owned company that supplies weapons to the Indonesian military received the same message from Apple, according to two people with knowledge of the matter. The people asked not to be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter. The company director did not respond to requests for comment.

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Within weeks of Apple’s notification in November last year, the US government added NSO to the Commerce Department’s “entity list,” making it difficult for US companies to do business with it, then to determine that the company’s phone hacking technology had been used. by foreign governments to “maliciously target” political dissidents around the world.

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