According to reports Sunday, an Israeli corporation accused of delivering spyware to governments has been linked to a list of 50,000 smartphone numbers from around the world, including those of activists, journalists, corporate executives, and politicians. Since at least 2016, researchers have accused Israel’s NSO Group and its Pegasus virus of assisting in the spying on a dissident in the United Arab Emirates.
The revelations on Sunday pose privacy and human rights concerns, as well as revealing the extent to which the private Israeli company’s software may be misused by its clients around the world. The Washington Post, the Guardian, Le Monde, and other news sources that collaborated on an investigation into a data leak revealed the extent of Pegasus’s use. According to media reports, the leak was of a list of over 50,000 smartphone numbers believed to have been recognized as people of interest by NSO clients since 2016.
According to the Washington Post, the list was given to the news organizations by Forbidden Stories, a media charity based in Paris, and Amnesty International. According to the Post, 15,000 of the numbers on the list belonged to Mexican lawmakers, union officials, journalists, and government critics.
According to the Indian investigative news website The Wire, 300 mobile phone numbers used in India, including those of government officials, opposition politicians, journalists, scientists, and human rights activists, were included on the list. According to the report, the numbers included more than 40 Indian journalists from prominent publications such as the Hindustan Times, The Hindu, and the Indian Express, as well as two founding editors of The Wire.
After WhatsApp launched a lawsuit in the United States against NSO, accusing it of using the messaging platform to undertake cyber espionage, the Indian government denied deploying the software to spy on its citizens in 2019.
According to the Post, forensic investigation of 37 of the smartphones on the list revealed “attempted and successful” breaches, including those of two women connected to Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered by a Saudi hit squad in 2018.
Citizen Lab, a research group at the University of Toronto, and Amnesty International previously reported on the use of the Pegasus malware to hack the phones of Al-Jazeera reporters and a Moroccan journalist. Although the statistics on the list are unattributed, the media outlets involved in the initiative were able to identify over 1,000 people from more than 50 nations.
Among them were six Arab royal families, at least 65 corporate executives, 85 human rights activists, 189 journalists, and more than 600 politicians and government officials, including heads of state, prime ministers, and cabinet ministers.
(News input: The Times of India)
According to sources, many of the numbers on the list were concentrated in ten countries: Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Hungary, India, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
Pegasus is said to be a very intrusive program that can activate a target’s phone’s camera and microphone, as well as access data on the device, basically turning a phone into a pocket spy.