The Guardian is reporting that journalists, human rights activists, business executives and others “have been targeted by authoritarian governments using hacking software sold by the Israeli surveillance company NSO Group.”
Chron.com described the software as “military-grade spyware” licensed by the Israeli company. The spyware is known as “Pegasus.”
Perhaps most alarming is that the hacks of 37 smart phones is the tip of an iceberg that includes “more than 50,000 numbers” of phones “concentrated in countries known to engage in surveillance of their citizens and also known to have been clients of the Israeli firm, NSO Group, a worldwide leader in the growing and largely unregulated private spyware industry.”
The investigation reportedly was done by The Guardian, the Washington Post and other media organizations. According to The Guardian, “Pegasus is a malware that infects iPhones and Android devices to enable operators of the tool to extract messages, photos and emails, record calls and secretly activate microphones.”
Reports say the investigation found information dating back to 2016, and included on the list of journalists whose numbers appear on the list were people from the Associated Press, CNN, Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times in London, Bloomberg News, LeMonde, New York Times, Al Jazeera and Voice of America.
The Chron,com report noted that the list doesn’t identify who added phone numbers, or even why.
Reportedly the list was shared with news organizations by Amnesty International and a Paris-based non-profit called Forbidden Stories, both of which had access to the list. As noted by The Guardian, this revelation increases concerns about surveillance among average citizens.
The story also noted “reporters were able to identify more than 1,000 people spanning more than 50 countries through research and interviews on four continents: several Arab royal family members, at least 65 business executives, 85 human rights activists, 189 journalists, and more than 600 politicians and government officials – including cabinet ministers, diplomats, and military and security officers.” Additionally, the numbers of “several heads of state” were also on the list.
What’s this all about? That seems to be the question nobody is able, or willing, to answer. Amnesty International’s security lab reportedly did forensic analysis on the 37 smartphones mentioned in the Chron.com report.
The Guardian said the NSO group maintained it only allows Pegasus use by “vetted government intelligence and law enforcement agencies.” And, the group says, such use is limited to “legitimate criminal or terror group targets.”
But can anyone be certain of that? Considering what the Guardian and Washington Post are reporting, evidently not.