According to revelations published Sunday, an Israeli corporation accused of supplying governments with Pegasus spyware has been linked to a list of 50,000 smartphone numbers from around the world, including activists, journalists, corporate executives, and politicians.
Since at least 2016, when researchers accused Israel’s NSO Group of assisting in the spying on a dissident in the United Arab Emirates, the company and its Pegasus virus have been in the news.
The revelations on Sunday pose privacy and rights concerns and reveal the far-reaching extent to which the private Israeli firm’s software may be misappropriated by its clients around the world.
“Since at least 2016, when researchers accused Israel’s NSO Group of assisting in the spying on a dissident in the United Arab Emirates, the company and its Pegasus virus have been in the news.“
Pegasus Data Leak
The Washington Post, the Guardian, Le Monde, and other news organizations collaborated on an investigation into a data breach and reported on the extent of Pegasus’ use.
According to media reports, a list of more than 50,000 smartphone numbers believed to have been recognized as people of interest by NSO clients during 2016 was leaked.
According to the Post, 15,000 of the names on the list were from Mexico and included politicians, union leaders, journalists, and government critics. The number of a Mexican freelance journalist who was killed at a carwash was purportedly included on the list. His phone was never located, and it’s unclear whether it was hacked.
The list included 300 cell phone numbers used in India, including those of government ministers, opposition politicians, journalists, scientists, and human rights campaigners, according to the Indian investigative news website The Wire.
More than 40 Indian journalists from major publications such as the Hindustan Times, The Hindu, and the Indian Express, as well as two founding editors of The Wire, were among those whose numbers were released, according to the report.
The Indian government denied in 2019 that it had used the malware to spy on its citizens after WhatsApp filed a lawsuit in the United States against NSO, accusing it of using the messaging platform to conduct cyber espionage.
A Pocket Spy
The numbers on the list are unattributed, according to the Post, but the media outlets involved in the initiative were able to identify over 1,000 people in more than 50 nations.
Several members of Arab royal families were at least 65 corporate leaders, 85 human rights activists, 189 journalists, and over 600 politicians and government officials, including presidents of state, prime ministers, and cabinet ministers. Many of the numbers on the list were claimed to be centered in ten countries: Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Hungary, India, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, according to sources.
According to the research, Moroccan security services used spyware to target roughly 30 French journalists and media executives.
Pegasus is said to be a highly intrusive program that can turn on a target’s phone camera and microphone as well as access data, basically turning the phone into a pocket spy.
Pegasus used by Saudi Arabia
Pegasus software, which is sold to foreign governments under a license from the Israeli government, aided Saudi Arabia in spying on Jamal Kashoggi, who was ultimately assassinated in Turkey.
Pegasus was also used to eavesdrop on Jeff Bezos after Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, exchanged conversations with him that exploited previously unknown WhatsApp vulnerabilities.
Pegasus was created by NSO Group, an Israeli technology firm. NSO issued a denial on Sunday that focused on the report by Forbidden Stories, calling it “full of wrong assumptions and uncorroborated theories,” and threatened a defamation lawsuit.
“We firmly deny the false allegations made in their report,” NSO said.
“As NSO previously said, our technology was not linked to the horrible murder of Jamal Khashoggi in any way,” the business claimed.
A leak of a list of over 50,000 phone numbers believed to have been identified as those of people of interest by clients of NSO since 2016 became available to Paris-based media nonprofit organization Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International. In what has been dubbed “Project Pegasus,” they shared the information with seventeen news media organizations, and a months-long investigation was conducted, with results released in mid-July 2021.
The Guardian (UK), Radio France and Le Monde (France), Die Zeit (Germany), The Washington Post (USA), Haaretz/TheMarker (Israel), Süddeutsche Zeitung, Aristegui Noticias, Proceso, OCCRP, Knack, Le Soir, The Wire, Daraj, Direkt36 (Hungary), and PBS Frontline were among the 80 journalists who took part in the Pegasus Project. Many phones with numbers on the list had been targeted by Pegasus spyware, according to evidence.
Disclaimer: This article provides coverage of a current occurrence. As the event progresses, information may change quickly, and initial news reports may be unreliable. This article’s most recent updates may not reflect the most up-to-date information.