Human rights activists, journalists and opponents around the world have been spied on by software developed by an Israeli company, according to a study published in several media outlets on Sunday.
NSO Group spyware Pegasus, if inserted into a smartphone, can retrieve messages, photos, contacts and even listen to calls from the owner. The company, which was founded in 2011 and which has been regularly accused of interfering with the game by authoritarian regimes, has always ensured that its software was used only to obtain information against criminal or terrorist networks.
But Prohibited Narratives organizations (to consult here) and Amnesty International were given access to a list, compiled in 2016, of 50,000 telephone numbers chosen by NSO clients for potential monitoring. It includes the number of 180 journalists, 600 politicians, 85 human rights activists or 65 business leaders … according to an analysis conducted by 17 newsrooms.
This list shows in particular the number of a Mexican journalist Cecilio Pineda Birto, shot to death a few weeks after he appeared in this document. Foreign correspondents from several major media outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, CNN, RFI, France 24, Mediapart, El País or AFP are also part of it.
In this list of potential spyware targets, we also find a head of state and two European heads of government, princes and princesses, business leaders, generals, activists and journalists, but whether it is Mexico, India, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Togo or even Hungary, the survey shows that government agencies around the world target their own citizens as well as people outside their country.
Relatives of Jamal Khashoggi
Other names of personalities on the list will be released in the coming days by the media consortium that conducted the investigation, including Le Monde, The Guardian and The Washington Post. Aimed at people and recovered 67 phones, which were subject to technical expertise. in an Amnesty International laboratory.
This expert opinion confirmed an infection or attempted infection with spyware from the NSO Group for 37 units, according to reports released on Sunday. Two of the phones belong to women close to the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, was assassinated in 2018 at his country’s consulate in Istanbul by a command of agents from Saudi Arabia.
For the other 30, the results are not convincing, often because the owners of the numbers have changed phones. “There is a strong temporal correlation between when the numbers were on the list and when they were placed under surveillance,” the Washington Post said.
This analysis, which undermines the company’s communications, comes in addition to a study, conducted in 2020, by Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto, which confirmed the presence of the Pegasus software in the phones of dozens of employees in the Al-Jazeera channel in Qatar.
NSO’s identity card
NSO, the Israeli cyber start. Who is its founder of NSO, the Israeli cyber-starter? And what exactly does the mysterious company do. NSO, these are the initials of the first names of the founders of this company located in Herzliya, north of Tel Aviv, reports our correspondent in Jerusalem, Michel Paul. Niv Carmi, Shalev Hulio and Omri Lavie from alumni from the infamous IDF unit 8200, which specializes in cyber yarn. A total of about 200 employees, most also from electronic intelligence services. Their most famous product is called Pegasus. This is malicious software that gets into a cell phone and hacks all the data there. Including messages, documents and photos and other personal information.
In addition, this Trojan allows you to activate remotely and without detecting the microphone and camera phones to spy on what is happening in the immediate environment. According to well-informed sources, Pegasus is sold for $ 25,000 per hacked phone. Several victims have taken the Israeli company to court. This is also the case with Facebook and WhatsApp who claim that an error in their messaging system has been exploited. NSO’s response is always the same: Our software, the company claims, is provided exclusively to authorities to combat terrorism and criminal acts.
Also read: Pegasus, the spyware program involved in a new case in Togo