Saudi Arabia buys spyware worth $300mn from Israel: Reports.

Saudi Arabia has reportedly purchased $300 million worth of spy software from Israel as Riyadh presses ahead with its crackdown against dissidents and pro-democracy campaigners in the ultra-conservative kingdom.

Arabic-language al-Khaleej Online news website, citing unnamed senior Arab sources, reported that representatives from the Riyadh regime and Israeli firms met and struck a deal without a mediator in the British capital city of London at the end of last May.

Tel Aviv and Riyadh have no diplomatic ties as Saudi Arabia do not recognize Israel. But the two sides have increased backchannel cooperation in recent years.

According to the sources, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates are aware of the deal, which they described as “major and fairly lucrative.” They said the first phase of the accord includes the delivery of 1,000 small but sophisticated tracking devices, which can be placed in the target’s mobile phone to fully monitor the movements of their owners both in Saudi Arabia and abroad.

Israeli representatives have received full payment for the deal before handing over the devices.

The second part of the deal will be implemented by 2020, under which another 2,000 devices will be handed over to Saudi officials.

Last November, Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz revealed that Saudi Arabia had negotiated the purchase of a system that hacks into cellphones with a secretive Israeli technology firm.

The report exposed Riyadh’s behind-the-scenes attempts to buy Israeli cyber attack software, citing a complaint filed with the Israeli police by a European businessman, who said representatives of Israel’s NSO Group Technologies had offered their Pegasus 3 technology to high-profile Saudi officials during talks in Vienna, Austria, in 2017.

The report identified the Saudi officials as Abdullah al-Malihi, a close associate of Prince Turki al-Faisal – a former Saudi spy chief – and another top Saudi official, Nasser al-Qahtani, who presented himself as the deputy of the current spy chief.

During their meeting, NSO representatives showed a PowerPoint presentation of the system’s capabilities.

Back then, NSO was promoting its Pegasus 3 software, a sophisticated espionage tool that does not depend on the victim clicking on a link before the phone is hacked, as defined by Haaretz.

The spyware needs only a phone number to ensnare a device. As soon as a phone is breached, the speaker and camera can be used for recording conversations. Even encoded applications like WhatsApp can be monitored via the spying software, according to the report.

Last week, American financial and business news website Business Insider reported that authorities in Saudi Arabia are reportedly resorting to military-grade technology and making use of the International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number in a bid to track down the cellphones of women who are fleeing the repressive and male-dominated system in the country.

Saudi Arabia has stepped up politically-motivated arrests, prosecution, and conviction of peaceful dissidents and human rights campaigners.

Over the past years, Riyadh has also redefined its anti-terrorism laws to target activism.

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