The Israeli cyber company NSO’s Pegasus software has enabled governments around the world, including Saudi Arabia, Hungary and Mexico, to track tens of thousands of phone numbers, including more than 180 journalists, an international journalistic investigation published in the Guardian newspaper revealed tonight (Sunday).
The spyware allows its customers to pull text messages, pictures, e-mail correspondence and call records from the iPhone and Android smartphones to which it has been inserted. The software also allows you to remotely turn on the phones’ microphones.
According to NSO officials, the software was intended to fight terrorism, but in recent years the name “Pegasus” has been linked to the monitoring of journalists and dissidents, the most famous of which was Jamal Khushkji, who was assassinated at the Saudi consulate in Turkey.
The Paris-based “Forbidden Stories” media organization and the Amnesty human rights organization, along with 16 media outlets belonging to the “Pegasus Project” consortium, have obtained a list of more than 50,000 phone numbers that have been estimated to be spyware targets since 2016.
From the list, the survey certainly identified more than a thousand people in more than 50 countries, including members of royal families in the Arab world, 189 journalists, 65 businessmen, 85 human rights activists and more than 600 politicians and government officials, including ministers and military personnel, including Leaders of countries.
The analysis of the information also showed that most of the numbers on the list, more than 15,000, were in Mexico, including the journalist Sicilio Birto who was murdered more than four years ago. In Morocco and the United Arab Emirates there were more than ten thousand destinations and also in European countries there were more than a thousand numbers to be tracked.
One of the dramatic figures was the follow-up of the journalists, many of whom belonged to some of the leading media in the world, Including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, CNN, AP, Le Monde, Financial Times and Al Jazeera. In Azerbaijan, 48 journalists were identified as targets for surveillance, while in India and Morocco, 38 media people were located.
“You feel you have been desecrated,” said Indian journalist Sidhart Verdragan, one of the founders of news site De Weir, whose device and that of his colleagues were hacked. “It’s an incredible intrusion and journalists don’t have to deal with it. No one has to deal with it, but especially journalists and those who work for the public interest.”
The investigation also showed how Victor Urban’s government in Hungary used Pegasus software as part of its fight against free media in the country. One of the journalists was Savolch Fanny from the Direct 36 website, whose device was under surveillance of the software for seven months in 2019, immediately after he asked the government for a response to an investigation into a Russian investment bank that wanted to enter the country. “I believe there is widespread paranoia (in government) and they see our motives and our networks as more than there really is,” Fanny said.
In a response published by the Israeli company, quoted on the Guardian website, it was stated that it “strongly denies the false allegations in the report, many of which are unfounded theories that raise serious doubts about the credibility of the sources, as well as the basis for the story.”
“NSO does not operate the systems it sells to government customers who have been tested and does not have access to information on customers’ targets,” the company said, which also denied any connection to Hashukaji’s assassination or follow-up or family members. “In short, an NGO is on a life-saving mission, and the company will carry out this mission in faith and without interruption, despite ongoing attempts to discredit it with false motives.”