MASHNOUKLebanese Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq did not deny on Friday claims that the country’s General Security had carried out cyber-espionage through hacking smartphone applications.

He announced after a Higher Defense Council meeting that the CIA report on the spy claims “was exaggerated, but that does not mean that it is not true.”

Mobile security firm Lookout, Inc. and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group, accused Lebanon’s General Security of using fake versions of smartphone apps, such as “WhatsApp,” Telegram, Threema and Signal, to hack Android mobile devices, turning them into cyber-spying machines.

This marks one of the first known cases of large-scale hacking of phones rather than computers.

General Security chief Abbas Ibrahim renewed on Friday his denial that his agency had such hacking capabilities, remarking: “We are strong, but to the extend that the report mentions.”

The two companies had accused the General Security of spying over 21 different countries, including the United States and several European nations.

No evidence was found that Apple phone users were targeted, something that may simply reflect the popularity of Android in the Middle East.

Ash Sharq al Awsat

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