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Armen Mirzoyan

Armenian Law Enforcement Deny Wiretapping of Opposition Politicians Despite Meta Claims

Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS) today announced that it had found no evidence that pro-government or opposition politicians have been wiretapped by Pegasus or other eavesdropping services despite allegations to the contrary.

Hetq wrote to the NSS after a December 16 report, jointly published by Meta (Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp) and the independent research group Citizenlab, stated that there were spy programs in Armenia that were tracking politicians, journalists and activists.

One of the key findings of the reads: “We conducted Internet scanning for Predator spyware servers and found likely Predator customers in Armenia, Egypt, Greece, Indonesia, Madagascar, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Serbia.”

In addition to the Pegasus spyware program, a product of the Israeli NSO Group Technologies company, the report named 77 companies that spy on people via the Internet at the behest of the public or the private sector.

"While cybercriminals often claim that their services target only criminals and terrorists, our months-long study has shown that journalists, critics of authoritarian regimes and human rights defenders are actually targeted," the Meta report said.

Meta’s research mentioned that cases of using the Cytrox spy program were found in Armenia, which targeted politicians and journalists.

Allegations of wiretapping surfaced in Armenia on November 24 of this year when Arthur Vanetsyan, former director of the National Security Service and current leader of the With Honor (Pativ Unem) faction of the National Assembly, wrote on his Facebook page that he had received a letter from Apple stating that it was possible state-sponsored hackers had targeted his phone.

Vanetsyan alleges that he and his family members were wiretapped by the Pegasus program.

Vanetsyan posted the message sent by Apple warning him that his iPhone may be the target of “state-sponsored attackers.”

“Apple believe you are being targeted by state-sponsored attackers who are trying to remotely compromise the iPhone associated with your Apple ID [email protected].” the message reads.

While there is no mention of wiretapping or the Pegasus program, Vanetsyan claims that he has relevant evidence to back-up his claim.   

Later, David Sanasaryan, leader of the Inknishkhan (Sovereign) Armenia party and former head of the State Control Service, and current Minister of High-Tech Industry Vahagn Khachaturyan announced that they too had received similar letters from Apple.

Referring to Arthur Vanetsyan's assertion that his family members were wiretapped via Pegasus spyware, the NSS reports that no criminal case has been initiated and no investigations have been launched.

Prosecutor's Office says the NSS hasn’t acquired Pegasus spyware

To understand the full picture of the actions taken by the law enforcement agencies in the matter, Hetq sent a similar inquiry to the Prosecutor General’s Office PGO).

The PGO, in response, said it had sent copies of Vanetsyan’s post to the NSS for review. The PGO also said the NSS, to its knowledge, hasn’t acquired the Pegasus spyware program.   

The PGO thus rejects the hypothesis that politicians in Armenia may have been wiretapped from within and that the NSS ordered the secret surveillance.

The PGO says that other statements mentioned in the inquiry, including the Cytrox wiretapping program, were sent to the NSS for verification.

NSO Group: "We provide the technology; the customer uses it"

Back in late November, the NSO Group told Hetq that the company only provides the software and doesn’t use it

"NSO Group is a software provider. We do not use technology; we do not have access to the data collected by our customers," said company spokesperson Liron Bruck.

Bruck refused to verify, or deny, if any government agency in Armenia is an NSO customer.  "Due to contractual and national security considerations, the NSO cannot confirm or deny the identities of our current or former contractors," the company said in a statement.

Earlier, IT consultant Arthur Papyan told Hetq that up to ten people in Armenia who have information on Armenia's foreign policy have been or are being targeted via Pegasus. "Not all of them have anything to do with politics, but they can state secrets," Papyan said.

Papyan refused to name names, adding it’s almost impossible to confirm the source of such attacks. He said Azerbaijan might have launched the attack.

Pegasus spyware being abused

In July of this year, an investigation conducted by 17 journalistic organizations, led by the French Forbidden Stories, revealed that the authorities of several countries massively surveilled journalists, human rights activists and lawyers via the NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware.

Originally intended to track dangerous criminals and terrorists, the NSO Group has faced increasing legal pressure and controversy as its hacking tools continue to be abused by repressive regimes and law enforcement around the world.

Earlier this month, Apple warned a group of iPhone users, including at least nine US State Department employees, that their devices were recently compromised by unidentified hackers wielding NSO tools.

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