‘Hundreds of journalists bugged with Pegasus spyware NSO Group’
At least 189 journalists worldwide may have been spied on with Pegasus, the eavesdropping software of the infamous NSO Group. A consortium of seventeen news organizations claims to have a list of 50,000 telephone numbers from the Israeli spy company. The NSO Group denies all allegations and is even considering a lawsuit for libel.
This has come from various media, including The Guardian and The Washington Post. Human rights organization Amnesty International and the journalistic non-profit platform Forbidden Stories also devote a lot of attention to the case.
The NSO Group has been under fire for quite some time. The company is responsible for developing spy software called Pegasus. It allows governments and other agencies to hack into smartphones, eavesdrop on communications and steal personal information.
The spyware is usually installed through vulnerabilities in popular apps, or by tapping a rogue URL distributed via SMS or WhatsApp. Once installed, you have access to text messages, emails, photos, videos, location data, contacts and the calendar, among other things. The person at the helm can also unwittingly listen to your microphone, take screenshots, record telephone conversations and activate the camera.
The NSO Group has always said that it only sells its Pegasus software to governments to track down terrorists and criminals. What they do with it next is beyond the Israeli company’s reach. If the NSO Group notices that its software is being misused, it says it will take action against the violators, such as by disabling the program remotely.
The fact that only governments use the NSO Group’s eavesdropping software is now being questioned again. A partnership of seventeen news organizations has joined forces in The Pegasus Project. Various participants published an article on Sunday evening Dutch time in which they say they have a list of the telephone numbers of 50,000 people who may have been tapped. How they managed to get hold of this list is unknown.
According to The Washington Post, the victims were selected for possible surveillance via Pegasus between early 2016 and June 2021. No names are mentioned with the telephone numbers. The participating news organizations say they have identified more than a thousand numbers. The people on the list come from fifty countries. It lists the numbers of at least 65 business people, 85 human rights activists and more than 600 politicians, including ministers, diplomats and security officials.
The list also contains the telephone numbers of 189 journalists. They work for CNN, Associated Press (AP), The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Financial Times, Bloomberg and Al Jazeera, among others. Amnesty International’s Security Lab conducted a forensic investigation and determined that at least 67 smartphones were infected with the NSO Group’s spy software. Another 14 devices showed ‘signs of possible hacking attempts.
The NSO Group reacts incensed to the story of the news organizations. The Guardian has published an extensive response from the company from Israel. In the press statement, the NSO Group strongly denies the ‘false claims’. In his own words, the report is based on “unconfirmed theories, which raise serious doubts about the reliability of the sources, as well as the basis of the story.”
“NSO does not operate the systems it sells to vetted government customers, and has no access to the data of its customers’ targets. NSO does not exploit its technology, does not collect, own, or access any data from its customers.” Due to contractual and national security considerations, the NSO Group cannot ‘confirm or deny’ customers’ identities.
Across The Verge says a spokesman of the NSO Group that nothing beats the story. “After verifying the allegations, we strongly deny the false allegations in their reporting,” the spokesperson said. He says “these allegations are so outrageous and factual” that the company is considering filing a lawsuit for defamation and defamation.
The reading that the NSO Group is only selling its eavesdropping software to governments is a reading that has been questioned for some time. Amnesty International filed a lawsuit a year ago when it turned out that Pegasus had been found on the smartphone of a Moroccan journalist. The human rights organization called it an attack on freedom of expression. Amnesty ultimately lost the lawsuit due to insufficient evidence.
At the end of 2019, WhatsApp sued the NSO Group and parent company Q Cyber Technologies in the US. WhatsApp accused the company of being actively involved in the use of spyware. According to the American messaging service, the Pegasus software would have been used to eavesdrop on the phones of at least 1,400 WhatsApp users.
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