EXCLUSIVE Top Indonesian officials targeted by spyware last year – sources

September 30 (Reuters) – More than a dozen senior Indonesian government and military officials were targeted last year with spyware designed by an Israeli surveillance firm, according to nine people with knowledge of the matter.

Six of the individuals told Reuters they themselves were targeted.

The targets included chief economy minister Airlangga Hartarto, senior military personnel, two regional diplomats and advisers from Indonesia’s defense and foreign ministries, according to the people.

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Six of the targeted Indonesian officials and advisers told Reuters they received an email from Apple Inc (AAPL.O) in November 2021 telling them that Apple believed the officials were “targeted by government-sponsored attackers. ‘State”.

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

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

Reuters was unable to determine who made or used the spyware to target Indonesian officials, whether the attempts were successful, and if so, what the hackers might have obtained.

The attempt to target Indonesian officials, which has not been previously reported, is one of the largest cases ever of the software being used against government, military and Ministry of Defense personnel, according to cybersecurity experts.

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

A Foreign Office spokesman said he was unaware of the matter and referred Reuters to the BSSN.

Alia Karenina, spokeswoman for Airlangga’s ministry, said the minister, a top ally of Indonesian President Joko Widodo, had not received any notification from Apple about the attempt to hack into his official email account.

She said the minister had not installed his official email on his personal phone and was using multiple mobile devices. Alia did not respond to questions about whether other emails used by Airlangga had received a warning from Apple.

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. The researchers in security from Google described it as the “most technically sophisticated” hacking attack they had. never seen, in a corporate blog post published in December.

Apple patched the vulnerability in September last year and in November began sending notification messages to what it called a “small number of users it believes may have been targeted”.

In response to questions from Reuters, an NSO spokesman denied that the company’s software was involved in targeting Indonesian officials, dismissing it as “contractually and technologically impossible”, without specifying why. The company, which does not disclose the identity of its customers, says it only sells its products to “verified 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 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 incident. ‘affair. The people asked not to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue. The company director did not respond to requests for comment.

Weeks after Apple’s notification in November last year, the US government added NSO to the Department of Commerce’s “entity list”, making it more difficult for US companies to do business with it, after determining 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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Reporting by Fanny Potkin in Singapore, Tom Allard in Jakarta, Kate Lamb in Sydney and Christopher Bing in Washington; Additional reports from the Jakarta office; Editing by Bill Rigby

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