Israeli private malware used to spy on journalists, activists: report


According to reports, the Pegasus software was sold by the Israeli firm NSO to customers who used it to hack the phones of journalists, activists and politicians – © AFP Lillian SUWANRUMPHA

Activists, journalists and politicians around the world have been spied on with the use of malicious mobile software developed by an Israeli private company, reports reported on Sunday, which ignited fears of widespread abuses of privacy and rights.

The Washington Post, The Guardian, Le Monde and other media reported on the use of the software, called Pegasus and developed by Israel’s NSO group, which collaborated in the investigation of a data leak.

The leak corresponded to a list of up to 50,000 phone numbers believed to have been identified as people of interest by OSN customers since 2016, according to reports.

Subsequently, not all of these figures were hacked and the media with access to the leak said more details would be released about those who were engaged in the coming days.

Among the numbers on the list are those for journalists for media organizations around the world, including Agence France-Presse, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, The New York Times, Al Jazeera, France 24, Radio Free Europe , Mediapart, El País, the Associated Press, Le Monde, Bloomberg, The Economist, Reuters and Voice of America, The Guardian said.

The use of software to hack the phones of Al-Jazeera journalists and a Moroccan journalist has previously been reported by Citizen Lab, a research center at the University of Toronto and Amnesty International.

Among the numbers on the list were two belonging to women close to Saudi-born journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed by a Saudi squad in 2018.

The list also included the number of a Mexican independent journalist who was later killed in a car wash. His phone was never found and it was unclear if he had been hacked.

The Washington Post said the numbers on the list also belonged to heads of state and prime ministers, members of Arab royal families, diplomats and politicians, as well as activists and business executives.

The list did not identify which customers had entered the numbers. But reports said many were grouped into ten countries: Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Hungary, India, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The Guardian wrote that the investigation suggests “widespread and continued abuse” of Pegasus, which the OSN says is intended to be used against criminals and terrorists.

Amnesty International and Forbidden Stories, a Paris-based nonprofit organization, initially had access to the leak, which it later shared with media organizations.

NSO, a leader in the growing largely unregulated private spyware industry, has previously pledged to the police for abusing its software.

According to the Washington Post, he called the allegations exaggerated and unfounded and would not confirm the identity of his clients.

Citizen Lab reported in December that dozens of journalists from Qatar’s Al-Jazeera network received their mobile communications through sophisticated electronic surveillance.

Amnesty International reported in June last year that Moroccan authorities used OSO’s Pegasus software to insert spyware into the mobile phone of Omar Radi, a journalist convicted of posting on social media.

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