Israeli company NSO Group’s Pegasus software has been used to hack into 37 cell phones belonging to journalists, activists and business leaders worldwide. Various international media, such as The Washington Post, Le Monde and The Guardian, report this based on their own research.
The phone numbers appeared on a list of more than 50,000 numbers that the researchers said may have been targeted for surveillance by governments using Pegasus.
Sold to select governments and law enforcement agencies, Pegasus can hack into cell phones and secretly record emails, calls and text messages via a link. From a phone infected with the Pegasus spyware, files such as photos and emails can be downloaded remotely. The microphone can also be turned on remotely. According to the NSO Group, the software is solely intended to track down and shadow criminals and terrorists.
One of the media consortium findings that conducted the investigation is that the spyware was used to break into the smartphone of the fiancée of murdered Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi. The list also includes phone numbers for journalists from news organizations such as CNN, AP, Voice of America, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg News, Le Monde, The Financial Times and Al Jazeera. In response to the consortium’s findings, NSO denied that its technology was being used against Khashoggi, saying the investigation contained flawed assumptions and factual errors.
The investigation is led by the Paris-based non-profit organization Forbidden Stories in collaboration with more than 80 journalists from 17 international media outlets from 10 different countries. According to the investigators, the evidence from the phones comes through digital forensic analysis by Amnesty International’s security lab.
Last month, NSO Group published its first annual Transparency and Responsibility Report, stating that states have used its products to thwart major terrorist attacks and dismantle drug traffickers. According to The Washington Post, more findings from the investigation will be released in the next three days.