Saudi Arabian journalists and activists fall victim to Pegasus spyware

Saudi Arabian journalists and activists fall victim to Pegasus spyware

A number of prominent journalists and activists were allegedly targeted and monitored by authoritarian regimes in the Middle East through hacker attacks using the Pegasus spyware developed by the Israeli company NSO Group. The software turns the phone into a spy device, activates the microphone and cameras, and exports files without the user’s knowledge.

Al-Jazeera Lebanese journalist Gada Weiss received a message from a colleague that a private photo of her was being shared on Twitter, along with false claims that the photos were taken at her boss’s house.

“I knew immediately that my phone had been hacked. These photos have not been published anywhere. They were only on my phone, ”Weiss explained in an interview with NBC News.

The girl believes that in this way they tried to force her to stop reporting on the Saudi regime.

In the case of Weiss and other women, the main method of intimidation and harassment was the publication of personal photographs in order to publicly shame and defame their reputations.

Saudi Arabian activist Ala Alvaiti, who now lives in London, was also the victim of an NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware hacker attack. In 2018, her phone began to behave strangely and the device often malfunctioned. According to the girl, she received calls from unknown numbers, and sometimes messages about the transfer of files appeared on the screen.

“When I started expressing my opinion about what was happening in Saudi Arabia, I became an enemy,” said Alvaiti.

As explained by the staff of Scotland Yard, the girl’s phone was hacked. But they couldn’t figure out exactly how.

In the summer of 2020, around the same time that Weiss’ photo leaked to Twitter, personal photos of Alhvaiti began to appear on the Web, stored only on her phone. The photos were posted on Twitter along with fake stories of drunkenness and lecherous relationships. The girl contacted the Citizen Lab and asked the experts to check the phone. Experts found traces of Pegasus malware and advised to change the device.

We will remind, earlier the French NGO Forbidden Stories and the human rights organization Amnesty International released new data indicating that the governments of dozens of countries are using Pegasus to spy on journalists, human rights defenders and dissidents.

The specialists had at their disposal a list of more than 50 thousand phone numbers from the Pegasus application database. The journalists managed to identify more than 1,000 people in 50 countries, who, presumably, became potential targets of surveillance by NSO Group clients.

This list includes 189 journalists working for news agencies and publications such as The Associated Press, Reuters, CNN, The Wall Street Journal, Le Monde and The Financial Times, more than 600 politicians and officials, 85 human rights activists, 65 business leaders and several presidents. countries.

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