Israeli spyware used to hack journalists

·2-min read

Israeli surveillance software firm NSO has been hit by new allegations its malware is being used to spy on acitivts, dissidents and members of the media.

According to a report by a gobal media consortium and based on leaked data, IT experts found traces of attacks using NSO's Pegasus software on 37 smartphones belonging to journalists, rights advocates and their relatives, and business people.

Outlets including France's Le Monde, Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Britain's The Guardian and US newspaper The Washington Post teamed up with Amnesty International and the Forbidden Stories organisation to analyse the phone numbers, part of a dataset of more than 50,000.

The numbers were apparently selected by NSO customers as potential spying targets. NSO vehemently denies the allegations.

News reports say the Pegasus Project research indicates hundreds of journalists, rights advocates, opposition figures and politicians were selected for monitoring using the spying software.

The phone numbers of more than 180 journalists from various countries were on the list, they say.

It was not clear how the list was obtained by Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International. The Sueddeutsche Zeitung referred to source confidentiality.

NSO has been accused before of helping totalitarian governments to spy on journalists and dissidents.

Facebook sued NSO in a US court in 2019, alleging the firm had tried to use a WhatsApp security vulnerability that was later fixed to gain access to hundreds of smartphones.

The targets allegedly included journalists, lawyers, dissidents, human rights activists, diplomats and government officials.

NSO software has also been alleged to have played a role in the murder of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi.

According to the Washington Post, two of the smartphones that Amnesty International's IT experts found traces of Pegasus attacks on belonged to women close to Khashoggi.

NSO said the Forbidden Stories report was "full of wrong assumptions and uncorroborated theories" and that the sources has supplied information with "no factual basis".

"These allegations are so outrageous and far from reality, that NSO is considering a defamation lawsuit," the Israeli firm said.

"We would like to emphasise that NSO sells it technologies solely to law enforcement and intelligence agencies of vetted governments for the sole purpose of saving lives through preventing crime and terror acts."

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