Dubai’s Sheikh Mohammed ordered Apple iPhones of ex-wife and lawyers to be hacked, UK court says

Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum ordered his ex-wife’s and her lawyers’ Apple iPhones to be hacked as part of a “sustained campaign of intimidation and threat” during the custody battle over their children, England’s High Court has ruled.

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Michael Holden and Andrew MacAskill for Reuters:

Mohammed used the sophisticated “Pegasus” software, developed by Israeli firm NSO for states to counter national security risks, to hack the phones of Princess Haya bint al-Hussein, half-sister of Jordan’s King Abdullah, and some of those closely connected to her, according to the rulings.

The latest rulings come 19 months after the court concluded that Mohammed had abducted two of his daughters, mistreated them and held them against their will. “The findings represent a total abuse of trust, and indeed an abuse of power to a significant extent,” Judge Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Division in England and Wales, said in his ruling.

Mohammed, 72, and Haya, 47, have been involved in a long, bitter and expensive custody battle since she fled to Britain with their two children, Jalila, 13, and Zayed, 9. She said she feared for her safety amid suspicions that she had had an affair with one of her British bodyguards.

Among those targeted by the hacking was Haya’s lawyer Fiona Shackleton, a member of Britain’s House of Lords who represented British heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles in his divorce from his late first wife Princess Diana.

The activity came to light in August last year after Shackleton was urgently tipped off by Cherie Blair, the wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, that she and Haya had been hacked, the court was told. Blair is also a prominent lawyer who worked as an external adviser for NSO.

Once the hacking was uncovered, NSO cancelled its contract with the UAE, Haya’s lawyers said. The Israeli firm said it could not immediately comment on the case, but said it took action if it received evidence of misuse of Pegasus.

McFarlane… concluded, and the Court of Appeal agreed, that the sheikh had authorised the hacking of six phones which took place between July and August 2020 when a vulnerability in Apple’s iPhone systems was exploited.

Expert cyber analysis revealed that on one occasion 265 megabytes of data were downloaded from Haya’s phone, the equivalent of 24 hours of voice recording or 500 photos. Exactly how much data and what information was taken from her and the other phones has not been determined.

MacDailyNews Note: Based on zero-day vulnerabilities to collect data from iPhones and other smartphones without user consent, Pegasus spyware was created by the NSO group. In August, the iMazing app was updated to include a new tool that can easily detect Pegasus spyware on iPhone. Getting started simply requires the anonymous download and installation of iMazing 2.14 on a Mac or even a crappy Windows PC. The feature is fully available without purchasing a license. More info here.

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