Spyware used to hack phones of journalists, activists: report

Investigators have found evidence of powerful spyware designed to be used to track criminals on the phones of journalists, human rights activists and politicians, a report says. .

About 23 phones showed signs of being hacked and another 14 showed signs of being hacked using Pegasus software licensed by NSO Group, a private technology company based in Israel, according to the report. an investigation by The Washington Post and several media partners.

Spyware can be delivered in a message, but may not even need to be clicked to hack a phone – prompting one cyberattack expert to call it “eloquently annoying”.

Using spyware, hackers can gain access to anything on a phone and can even activate the camera and microphone.

“There’s nothing wrong with building technologies that allow you to collect data; Sometimes it’s necessary,” Timothy Summers, IT Director at Arizona State University, told the Washington Post.

But Summers, a former cybersecurity engineer with US intelligence, said it was possible to use it to spy on nearly the entire population of the world.

“But humanity is not in a place where we can have a lot of power that anyone can access.”

The number of alleged hacks and attempted attacks may be only a fraction of the total. Out of the 67 phones voluntarily submitted for review, 37 showed signs of being hacked or attempted to hack but that doesn’t mean the remaining 30 are unattended. the report said.

Hatice Cengiz, the fiancée of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, is said to have installed NSO Group's flagship Pegasus spyware on her phone.
Hatice Cengiz, the fiancée of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, is said to have installed NSO Group’s flagship Pegasus spyware on her phone.

Reporters identified the numbers and requested voluntary access to the phones after news organizations obtained a 2016 list of more than 50,000 phone numbers in their investigation of Pegasus, according to the newspaper. fox.

More than 1,000 people on the list were identified in more than 50 countries, including 189 journalists from organizations such as CNN, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg, the Washington Post said. More than 600 of those identified as politicians or government employees, including heads of state, the report states.

The two people targeted were apparently directly connected to Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist murdered in October 2019. stated report. His wife was allegedly targeted before his death and his girlfriend was allegedly targeted days after the murder, the report said.

Mexican journalist Cecilio Pineda, who appeared on the list twice, was shot dead at a car wash, the report states. NSO refuses all connections for the company and the deaths of Khashoggi and Pineda.

An NSO lawyer said the investigation was based on misinterpretations and misanalysis.

“NSO Group has good reason to believe that this list of ‘thousands of phone numbers’ is not a list of numbers targeted by governments using Pegasus, but may, instead, be a part of it. of a larger list of numbers that may have been used by NSO Group clients for other purposes,” the defamation attorney said.

The overall list, which does not identify who is linked to how many or why they are on the list, was collected by Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International. It’s unclear where the listing originated or who may have used it, but the company said its customers include dealers in 40 different countries, the Post said.

According to the investigation, a large portion of the numbers on the list are in places like the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, which have been or have been NSO customers.

NSO has claimed it has a policy against clients that violate human rights and recently ended two contracts for abuse, the report said.

Analysis of the phone found no evidence that spyware had affected any phones in the US, although dozens of American monitors were listed. NSO says none of its products can be used to monitor US phones.



Huynh Nguyen

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