Microsoft says that Catalans are among victims of government espionage

  • Tech firm points finger at "Israel-based private-sector offensive actor" hired by cabinets as Catalonia accuses Spain

VilaWeb / Catalan News Agency
16.07.2021 - 13:25
Actualització: 16.07.2021 - 15:25

A number of Catalans have been victims of espionage carried out by “government agencies” tech company Microsoft has revealed. In a post in one of its blogs on Thursday, the firm said that its intelligence center MSTIC has found out that an “Israel-based private-sector offensive actor” has been hired by cabinets in order to spy on people through a malware. Exiled president Carles Puigdemont and his entourage are among the spionage victims, according to VilaWeb sources.

Microsoft calls this actor SORGUM, but Citizen Lab, at the University of Toronto’s Munk School, which contributed to the findings, asserts that the Israeli company is commonly known as Candiru. The malware “targeted more than 100 victims around the world including politicians, human rights activists, journalists, academics, embassy workers, and political dissidents,” said the firm founded by Bill Gates.

“Approximately half of the victims were found in Palestinian Authority, with most of the remaining victims located in Israel, Iran, Lebanon, Yemen, Catalonia, United Kingdom, Turkey, Armenia and Singapore,” they added. Yet, Microsoft clarified that “the identification of victims of the malware in a country does not necessarily mean that an agency in that country is a SOURGUM customer, as international targeting is common.”

Spain under suspect

However, the Catalan government believes Spain is the government targeting people in Catalonia. “Controlling Catalans, a curious ‘reconciliation’ agenda led by the Spanish executive,” tweeted Jordi Puigneró, Catalan vice president and digital policies minister, referring to the motto promoted by Madrid to show its positive approach towards dialogue on the independence issue. “Afterwards they get angry when they are put at Turkey’s level in terms of human rights,” added President Aragonès’ second-in-command.

Agencies in Uzbekistan, United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia are among the list of Candiru’s alleged previous customers. According to Microsoft, private-sector offensive actors are private companies that manufacture and sell cyberweapons in hacking-as-a-service packages, often to government agencies around the world, to hack into their targets’ computers, phones, network infrastructure, and other devices.

The multinational informed that they have “created and built protections” against the malware through a software called DevilsTongue, and have also issued a software update to protect their customers against it.

This revelation comes exactly a year after The Guardian and El País revealed that the phones of Catalan parliament speaker Roger Torrent and other pro-independence activists were targeted using spyware that experts say is only sold to governments to track criminals and terrorists.


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