Journalists, Activists among 50,000 Targets of Israeli Spyware: Reports

According to reports, the malware can even be installed without the target clicking the “exploit link.”

Targets in India, Mexico

NSO clients not only included totalitarian states such as Saudi Arabia, and Azerbaijan, but also democracies including India and Mexico.

The Wire, an Indian news website and member of the consortium, reported that 300 mobile phones used in India were on the list.

The phone numbers were used by cabinet ministers, opposition politicians, journalists, lawyers, businessmen, scientists, and rights activists, the news website said.

More than 40 Indian journalists from major publications including The Hindu, the Indian Express, and two founding editors of The Wire, were among people whose numbers were on the list.

In 2019, a study by the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab revealed that the Indian government was spying on lawyers, activists, and journalists using the Pegasus software via WhatsApp.

The Indian government had denied the allegations after WhatsApp filed a lawsuit against NSO in the United States, in which the messenger app confirmed the details reported by Citizen Lab.

The Washington Post, another member of the consortium, reported that 10,000 phone numbers on the list were from Mexico, belonging to politicians, union representatives, journalists, and government critics.

One of them was a Mexican freelance journalist who was murdered at a carwash. His cellphone was never found, and it could not be confirmed if it was infected with Pegasus.

Jamal Khashoggi’s fiancée targeted

Amnesty International reported that the spyware was successfully installed on the phone of two women close to Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, including his fiancée, Hatice Cengiz. Pegasus infected Cengiz’s phone just four days before he was killed in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in 2018, the report said.

This is the second time NSO has been implicated in spying on Khashoggi.

In January 2020, United Nations experts called for an official investigation into reports that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had the phone of Amazon founder and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos hacked.

Bezos’ phone was presumably hacked to keep tabs on the reporting of the Post, for which Khashoggi wrote.

NSO issues denial

The Israeli firm issued a denial on Sunday, calling the report by Forbidden Stories “full of wrong assumptions and uncorroborated theories.”

The company even threatened to file a defamation lawsuit.

We firmly deny the false allegations made in their report,” NSO said.

As NSO has previously stated, our technology was not associated in any way with the heinous murder of Jamal Khashoggi,” it said.

We would like to emphasize that NSO sells its technologies solely to law enforcement and intelligence agencies of vetted governments for the sole purpose of saving lives through preventing crime and terror acts.”

This article is published courtesy of Deutsche Welle (DW).

See also:

— “The Pegasus Project: A Special Investigation into NSO Group, Which Sells Hacking Spyware to Governments,” Guardian, 18 July 2021

— “Takeaways from the Pegasus Project,” Washington Post, 19 July 2021

— “Despite the Hype, iPhone Security No Match for NSO Spyware” (Craig Timberg, Reed Albergotti, and  and Elodie Guéguen, Washington Post, 19 July 2021)