Pegasus spyware has spied on journalists and activists around the world

Pegasus spyware has spied on journalists and activists around the world

The malware, sold by the Israeli Nso, infects smartphones and can extract emails, messages and images, as well as activate users' microphone and camera at any time

(photo: Unsplash) An investigation conducted parallel from 17 international media has revealed that journalists, human rights activists, lawyers and politicians from all over the world were being spied on by authoritarian governments through the spyware Pegasus, produced by the Israeli surveillance company Nso.

Pegasus is a malware that can infect Android and iPhone smartphones, allowing you to extract emails, chats, images, as well as record phone calls and turn on microphones and cameras at any time. The company that produces it claims to sell it only to law enforcement and intelligence agencies to fight terrorism or other threats to the security of a state. However, several times in recent years this software has been at the center of accusations for its uses.

The investigation began after a list of 50,000 numbers of people potentially spied on through Pegasus thanks to the organization no profit of Parisian journalism Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International. These people were deemed to be of interest to Nso's customers. Nso's top ten customers according to the investigation would be Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Hungary, India, and the United Arab Emirates.

Forensic analyzes on a sample of phones from people on this list showed that more than half of the phones - 37 out of 67 - had traces of the Pegasus malware.

On the list of potentials observed by spyware are 180 journalists from international media such as Agence France Presse, CNN, New York Times, Al Jazeera and many others. The numbers also include two women close to the murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and a Mexican journalist named Cecilio Pineda Birto, who was killed in his country in 2017.

The list also includes heads of state and government, members of Arab royal families and business leaders. Among the governments suspected of hacking investigative journalists' phones is Viktor Orban's Hungarian one.

The company that produces Pegasus, Nso, has denied the serious allegations, claiming that yesterday's revelations are "Full of erroneous hypotheses and uncorroborated theories that raise serious doubts about the reliability and interests of the sources". Nso also stated that the list mentioned cannot contain the number of people spied by Pegasus and described the figure of 50,000 as "exaggerated".

This is not the first time that Nso's Pegasus spyware has been accused of allowing a broad surveillance campaign. Between July and August 2020, research organization Citizen Lab discovered that 36 phones belonging to Al Jazeera journalists had been hacked using Pegasus technology, possibly by hackers working for Middle Eastern governments. In 2019, WhatsApp sued Nso, claiming that Pegasus was used to hack users of the encrypted chat service.

Just two weeks ago Nso released its first transparency report detailing policies and human rights commitments. Amnesty dismissed the 32-page document as a “sales brochure”.

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