Activists, politicians and journalists from around the world were targeted in a surveillance operation using software sold by the Israeli surveillance company NSO Group, according to an investigation into a massive data leak.
The 17 media organizations worldwide released a report on Sunday said “authoritarian governments” abused the Pegasus software, “hacking 37 smartphones,” according to a report by the Washington Post.
According to the Guardian, the leak contains a list of more than 50,000 numbers believed to have been of interest to clients of NSO since 2016.
However, the mention of phone numbers in the leaked data does not necessarily mean that those devices were hacked, it said.
The Washington Post reported numbers on the list also belonged to heads of state and prime ministers, members of Arab royal families, diplomats and politicians, as well as activists and business executives.
The list also included journalists for media organisations around the world including The Wall Street Journal, CNN, The New York Times, Al Jazeera, France 24 and several others.
According to forensic analysis by Amnesty’s Security Lab, two women close to slain Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi were targeted with Pegasus spyware, according to the Washington Post newspaper. The phone of Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, was infected with the malware days after his murder in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018, the paper, for whom Khashoggi wrote, reported.
Pegasus, a sophisticated surveillance tool developed by the Israel company, infects the user’s smartphone and steals all the phone’s information, including every contact name and phone number, text message, email, Facebook message, everything from Skype, WhatsApp, Viber, WeChat and Telegram.
The latest expose did not identify the clients but the reports said many were clustered in 10 countries – Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Hungary, India, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Amnesty International and Forbidden Stories, a Paris-based media non-profit organisation, initially had access to the leak, which they then shared with media organisations from around the world.
NSO firmly denied allegations published. “NSO Group firmly denies false claims made in your report,” it said to the Guardian. “Many of which are uncorroborated theories that raise serious doubts about the reliability of your sources, as well as the basis of your story.”