Israel’s Espionage on Lebanese Smartphones Raises Concerns: How Serious is the Risk?
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By The Smartencyclopedia Staff & Agencies

BEIRUT — In a recent speech on Feb. 13, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah raised alarm over the potential risks associated with smartphones, labeling them as “spy devices that can be controlled.” Nasrallah urged people in southern Lebanon to dispose of their phones, claiming they pose a significant security threat.

The remarks came in response to Israeli strikes that targeted and killed members of Hezbollah and Hamas in Lebanon over recent months. Israel, relying heavily on its tech sector, employs various intelligence strategies, including the use of spies and advanced technologies.

The Israeli tech sector, supported by cybersecurity companies, enables the country to intercept phone calls, monitor social networks, and deploy sophisticated drones for surveillance and high-precision photography.

Nasrallah’s emphasis on the dangers of smartphones indicates growing frustration within Hezbollah leadership with Israel’s cybersecurity approach. “The smartphone in your hand is a device that can be controlled. I don’t have one. It is a spy device! It hears everything you do and takes pictures of your location and your home … Israel does not need more than that!” Nasrallah declared passionately.

“So we ask our brothers in the South: get rid of your phones! Throw them away, bury them, put them in a metal box, and get rid of them! They’re dangerous!” Nasrallah exclaimed in the televised address.

As hostilities between Hezbollah and Israel persist, it raises questions about the risks associated with smartphone usage in the region.

“Most Dangerous Device” in Terms of Spying

Roland Abi Najem, a cybersecurity consultant, emphasized the severity of smartphone risks, stating that “the mobile is the most dangerous device” for spying. “Your mobile smartphone is connected to the internet and has microphones which Israel can enable remotely to listen to all conversations and can also record everything happening through the mobile’s camera,” Abi Najem explained.

Mohamad Najem, executive director of SMEX, a Lebanese NGO advocating for human rights in digital spaces, highlighted the dangers when cell phones transform into surveillance devices.

With the integration of artificial intelligence (AI), Israel combines information from smartphones with data collected from security cameras in southern Lebanon, enabling targeted operations.

Pegasus Spyware Raises Concerns

Both experts expressed concern over the use of Pegasus, a spyware developed by Israeli cyber-intelligence firm NSO Group, which makes it challenging to protect one’s device. Pegasus can access a phone’s microphone, camera, and files, as revealed in a 2021 scandal, known as the Pegasus Project.

This international investigation, involving 80 journalists from 10 countries, exposed Pegasus being used by numerous states to spy on individuals worldwide, including journalists and politicians.

Abi Najem stated that Pegasus “can hack smartphones, even without any single mistake from the user,” emphasizing the vulnerability of users even without clicking on suspicious links, known as “zero-click attacks.”

Unknown Threats and Mitigation Measures

While protection against Pegasus remains challenging, individuals are encouraged to take measures to limit other threats. Mohamad Najem suggested minimizing app downloads and using web browsers instead.

Moreover, enabling two-step verification, an authentication method requiring two pieces of evidence to access an application adds a layer of security. Najem advised users to enable two-step verification through a phone’s settings, linking applications to a phone number or authenticator.

As concerns grow over Israel’s surveillance capabilities, Nasrallah’s call to discard smartphones underscores the need for heightened awareness and measures to safeguard digital privacy in the region.

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