September 28, 2021

Pegasus: journalists, politicians and activists spied on around the world

Activists, journalists and opponents around the world have been spied on using software developed by the Israeli company NSO Group, according to an investigation published on Sunday (July 18) which reinforces long-standing suspicions about the company.

This company, founded in 2011 north of Tel Aviv, markets the Pegasus spyware which, if inserted into a smartphone, can retrieve messages, photos, contacts, and even listen to phone calls. his owner.

NSO Group has regularly been accused of playing into the hands of authoritarian regimes, but has always claimed that its software is only used to obtain intelligence against criminal or terrorist networks.

Or le consortium d’investigationForbidden Storiesand Amnesty International were given access to a list, compiled in 2016, of 50,000 phone numbers that NSO Group clients had selected for potential surveillance. According to a survey conducted by 17 editorial staff, this list includes the numbers of at least 180 journalists, 600 politicians, 85 human rights activists and 65 business leaders.

This list includes the number of a Mexican journalist,Cecilio Pineda Birto, shot dead in Guerrero state, Mexico, a few weeks after its appearance on this document.

Foreign correspondents from several major media, including France 24, the Wall Street Journal, CNN, Mediapart, El País or AFP are also part of it.

Other names of personalities on the list will be disclosed in the coming days by the media consortium that conducted the investigation, including Le Monde, The Guardian and The Washington Post.

Their journalists met some of those targeted and recovered 67 phones, which were the subject of a technical expertise in an Amnesty International laboratory. This review confirmed NSO Group spyware infection or attempted infection for 37 devices, according tothe reports published on Sunday.

Relatives of Jamal Khashoggi targeted

Two of the phones belong to women close to Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, assassinated in 2018 in his country’s consulate in Istanbul by a commando of agents from Saudi Arabia.

For the other 30, the results are not convincing, often because the owners of the numbers have changed phones.

‘There is a strong temporal correlation between when the numbers appeared on the list and when they were placed on watch,’ the Washington Post said.

This investigation, which undermines the communication of the Israeli company, adds to a study, carried out in 2020 by the Citizen Lab of the University of Toronto, which had confirmed the presence of the Pegasus software in the phones of dozens of employees of the Al-Jazeera channel in Qatar.