Israeli Spyware Found on the Phones of Thousands of Politicians, Activists and Journalists

As in Ed Snowden warned in a tweet when the story broke over the weekend, “This leak could be the story of the year.”

Southfront reports that used spyware by an Israeli company to try and successfully hack 37 smartphones belonging to journalists, government officials and human rights activists around the world, according to an investigation of 17 media organizations, published July 18.

One of the organizations, The Washington Post, said Pegasus spyware licensed by the Israel-based NSO Group was also used to target phones belonging to two women close to Jamal Khashoggi, a columnist in the Post killed by a Saudi consultant in Turkey in 2018.

One of them is her fiancé, and she and the other woman are targeted both before and after her death.

The Guardian, another of the media outlets, said investigation suggests “widespread and ongoing abuse” of NSO hacking software, described as malware that infects smartphones to enable retrieval of messages, photos and emails; call recording; and covert activation of microphones.

The investigation highlighted the widespread and ongoing abuse of NSO’s hackware spyware called ‘Pegasus’ which the company has proven was only intended to be used against terrorist groups, drugs and human traffickers, and criminals.

Pegasus is the most advanced malware that has infected iOS and Android devices to allow spyware operators to copy messages, photos, calls and other data, including the secret operation of microphones and cameras.

According to the investigation, the leak contained 50,000 phone numbers known to be of interest to NSO clients since 2016.

The list includes several close family members of a ruler of a country, suggesting that he may have ordered the country’s intelligence agencies to investigate the possibility of tracking and spying on their own relatives.

The company, NSO Group, released a statement on its website denying the reporting of 17 media partners led by the non -profit Forbidden Stories based in Paris.

“The Forbidden Stories report is full of erroneous assumptions and untrue theories that have raised serious doubts about the reliability and interest of the sources. It is as if ‘unknown sources’ provide information without real basis and far from reality, ”the company said in a statement.

“After reviewing their claims, we strongly deny the false allegations made in their report,” the statement said. The NSO said its technology had nothing to do in any way with Khashoggi’s assassination.

In a statement, rights group Amnesty International condemned “the overwhelming lack of regulation” in surveillance software.

“Until this company (NSO) and the industry as a whole can demonstrate competence in respecting human rights, there must be an immediate cessation of the export, sale, transfer and use of technology. surveillance, “ the rights group said in a statement.

The targeted phone numbers are on the list provided by Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International to 17 media organizations. It is not clear how the groups got the list.

The numbers on the list are not dedicated, but reporters identified more than 1,000 people covering more than 50 countries.

They include many members of the Arab royal family, at least 65 business executives, 85 human rights activists, 189 journalists and more than 600 politicians and government officials – including many heads of state and prime ministers.

“We are very upset to learn that both AP journalists, along with reporters from several news organizations, are among those who may have been targeted by Pegasus spyware,” said AP Media Relations Director Lauren Easton.

“We have taken steps to ensure the security of our reporter’s devices and are investigating,” he added.

Reuters spokesman Dave Moran said, “Journalists should be allowed to report news in the public interest without fear of harassment or harm, wherever they are. We know the report and investigate the cause. “

The map below gives an insight into how many of the NSO Group’s “customers” have feed numbers.

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