Media: Politicians and Journalists Around the World Tracked with Spyware
Software from the Israeli firm NSO Group, used by intelligence agencies to track criminals and terrorists, has been used to spy on activists, journalists and politicians around the world. This the Washington Post found out during the investigation.
Thus, the non-profit organizations Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International obtained access to a list of 50 thousand phone numbers compiled in 2016. They were selected by clients of the Israeli company NSO for potential surveillance. Soon, the organizations passed the data on to the media, which launched a joint investigation and analyzed the list.
This list of numbers did not include the names of the owners of the phones. However, the journalists were able to identify more than a thousand people from more than 50 countries. Among them were members of Arab royal families, 65 businessmen, 85 human rights defenders, 189 journalists and more than 600 politicians and officials, including ministers, diplomats and the military. In addition, this list even includes the numbers of some heads of state and prime ministers.
The list also included the phone numbers of reporters from CNN, the Associated Press and Bloomberg, the American Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and the French Le Monde, as well as a number of other publications.
About 15 thousand numbers from this list are owned by residents of Mexico. There were politicians, representatives of trade unions, journalists and oppositionists. In addition, the list includes the numbers of various people from the Middle East. Europeans also got into it: more than a thousand numbers of the French and hundreds of numbers associated with two media moguls in Hungary – the company's clients.
Also, the journalists found out that the Pegasus software was used for hacking and attempts to obtain data from 37 phones of journalists, human rights activists, businessmen from around the world.
In turn, a special unit of the Amnesty organization checked 67 smartphones, against which, presumably, attacks were carried out using software. It turned out that 23 phones were victims of spy software, and 14 – showed signs of a hacking attempt.
In addition, the organization found evidence that Pegasus software was used to track Hatija Cengiz, the fiancee of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashukji, days after his assassination at the Saudi Arabian Consulate General in Istanbul in 2018. A few months before the journalist's death, a cyberattack was carried out on the phone of his wife, Hanan El-Atr. However, the publication notes that it was not possible to establish the success of this hack.
In turn, the Israeli firm said it does not run “spyware” intended for customers. Therefore, it does not have access to the collected data. However, the company drew attention to the fact that its technology helped prevent attacks and explosions.
Earlier, the Financial Times , citing its own sources, reported that the Pegasus malware, developed by the NSO Group, was used by intelligence and the government to collect data from individuals' smartphones. This program could access data in the cloud to a person's complete location history, archived messages and photos.
At the same time, NSO Group has been repeatedly accused of data hacking and cyber espionage. So, in 2019, the social network Facebook accused the company of hacking over a thousand WhatsApp user accounts. And in 2020, the British media reported that the phone of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was hacked from the phone of the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman using the Pegasus-3 program. At the time, Bezos said that “in some circles” they were unhappy with the way his Washington Post covered the assassination of Jamal Khashukji, which Saudi Arabia is accused of.
Earlier, IT specialist Anna Mikhailova said that most modern TVs are able to transmit information about what is happening in the room to third parties.