Journalists, activists and politicians said that the Israel-based cybersurveillance company NSO Group has been using its military-grade malware to spy on them, according to a new investigation.
An article posted by the Forbidden Stories, an independent and non-profit organization, revealed that nearly 200 journalists, politicians and activists around the world are being targeted by the clients of the NSO Group since 2016.
In the statement, Forbidden Stories said that the organization and Amnesty International were able to obtain access to “a leak of more than 50,000 records of phone numbers that NSO clients selected for surveillance.” The targeted individuals are usually heads of states, activists and journalists, including the family of Saudi Arabian dissident and columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
The investigation found out that Pegasus, the name of the spyware developed by NSO Group, hacks the mobile devices of the targeted individuals to enable operators to extract messages, photos and emails, record calls and secretly activate microphones and cameras.
“It is impossible to know whether a specific phone number appearing in the list was successfully compromised without analyzing the device. However, Amnesty International’s Security Lab, in partnership with Forbidden Stories, was able to perform forensics analyses on the phones of more than a dozen of these journalists – and 67 phones in total – revealing successful infections through a security flaw in iPhones as recently as this month,” Forbidden Stories wrote in a statement on July 18.
Despite the results of the investigation, NSO wrote a letter in response to Forbidden Stories’ article, NSO denied the spying accusations and said that Pegasus was only intended to be used to detect any ploys being planned by criminals and terrorists.
NSO also said that it “cannot confirm or deny the identity” of its government customers due to “contractual and national security considerations.”
It stressed that the military-grade software is only being utilized for military, law enforcement and intelligence agencies from countries that have good human rights records.
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