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Spyware Pegasus Used To Hack Phones Of Journalists, Activists

An Israeli woman uses her iPhone in front of the building that houses the Israeli group NSO, on August 28, 2016, in Herzliya, near Tel Aviv.

An Israeli woman uses her iPhone in front of the building that houses the Israeli group NSO, on August 28, 2016, in Herzliya, near Tel Aviv.
Photo: Jack Guez / AFP (Getty Images)

A list of more than 50,000 phone numbers and a subsequent survey led a consortium of 17 News organizations believe NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware has been used to test or implement it successfully. hacks on phones journalists, human rights activists, and even more.

The survey, entitled “Pegasus Project” and published by u Washington Post Sunday, start with the list. Tens of thousands of numbers were mainly from a group of 10 countries known to spy on their citizens, including Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Hungary, India, Mexico and Saudi Arabia, and even confirmed to be clients of NSO Group, an Israeli security company whose clients include dozens of intelligence, military and law enforcement services.

Even if the numbers on the list do not include a name, the consortium was able to identify more than 1,000 people, including 189 journalists and more than 600 politicians and government officials, in addition to 50 countries. Amnesty International and non-profit French journalism Forbidden Stories had access to the list and he shared with the consortium of news organizations, including Le Monde, Die Zeit, The Guardian, and PBS Frontline, among others.

A forensic analysis by Amnesty International of 37 smartphones with numbers on the list found that many show a “close correlation” between the timestamp associated with the number and the start of surveillance, the Post said.

Victims who have been successfully hacked and identified by the outlet include Hatice Cengiz, the girlfriend of Post writer Jamal Khashoggi, who was brutally murdered by Saudi agents in 2018. Cengiz’s phone was hacked into the Days after Khashoggi’s assassination in Turkey. Another victim was the top Azerbaijani journalist Khadija Ismayilova, who had been hacked many times from March 2019 until last May. Siddharth Varadarajan, co-founder of Wire, an independent media outlet in India, has also been successfully targeted, the investigation found.

Ismayilova revealed that she had stopped communicating with people because those she spoke to were being persecuted by the security services.

“You don’t trust anyone, and then you try not to have long-term plans with your life because you don’t want any person to have problems because of you,” Ismayilova said.

All in all, Amnesty analyzed 67 smartphones suspected of being attacked. He determined that 23 had been successfully infected by Pegasus and 14 had shown signs of a pirate attempt. Amnesty has not been able to reach a conclusion on the remaining 30 phones, the Post said. In many cases, this is due to the fact that the phone had been replaced.

It’s not hard for Pegasus to infect phones, which is downright terrifying. To target a phone, someone sends a link to the victim who tricks them into clicking and activating spyware. Pegasus can also activate it without any clicks. A hacked phone can be used to record from the device’s cameras and microphone and also collect location data, call logs and contacts.

The NSO Group has firmly denied the investigation’s claims, calling some of them “uncorroborated theories” that raise serious doubts about the trust of the consortium’s sources and the basis of its history. The Guardian published one edit summary of statements issued by NSO Group and its lawyers in response to the Pegasus Project on Sunday.

The Israeli security firm said the consortium’s claims were based on misleading interpretation of data filtered by “accessible and obvious basic information”.

The NSO Group has good reason to believe that this list of ‘thousands of phone numbers’ is not a list of numbers intended by governments using Pegasus, but instead, may be part of a larger list of numbers that could have been used by NSO Group clients for other purposes, ”said Thomas Clare, an attorney for the NSO Group, in the Post story.

The company also denied that its technology was associated “in any way” with Khashoggi’s death and said it had already investigated the matter. He claimed that his technology helped prevent terrorist attacks, gun violence, car explosions, and suicide bombings.

“In short, NSO Group is on a rescue mission, and the company will faithfully carry out this mission without hesitation, despite any continued attempts to discredit it for false reasons,” he said.

We will all let you be the judge of that. You can read the full, in-depth investigation on the Washington Post.

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