As a result of a mass investigation into the leak, human rights activists, journalists and lawyers around the world have become the target of authoritarian governments using hacking software sold by the Israeli surveillance company NSO Group.
An investigation by the Guardian and 16 other media outlets has revealed the widespread and ongoing abuse of Pegasus hacking spyware, which the company says is intended only for use against criminals and terrorists.
Pegasus is a malicious program that infects iPhones and Android devices, allowing operators to retrieve messages, photos and emails, record calls and secretly activate microphones.
The leak contains a list of more than 50,000 phone numbers that are believed to have been of interest to NGO clients since 2016.
Paris-based non-profit media organization Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International were the first to gain access to the expired list and share it with media partners under the Pegasus project.
The Guardian and its information partners will reveal the identities of the people on the list in the coming days. They include hundreds of business leaders, religious figures, scientists, NGO workers, trade unionists and government officials, such as cabinet members, presidents and prime ministers.
The list also contains the number of close family members of the ruler of a country, suggesting that the ruler may have instructed his intelligence services to investigate the possibility of observing their own relatives.
The revelations begin today with a list of more than 180 journalists, including reporters, editors and executives of the Financial Times, CNN, New York Times, France 24, Economist, Associated Press, Wall Street Journal, Al Jazeera, Radio Free Europe, Mediapart, El País, Le Monde, Bloomberg, Agence France-Presse, Economist, Reuters and Voice of America.
The list included the phone number of Mexican freelance reporter Cecilia Pineda Birt, who was apparently of interest to a Mexican client a few weeks before his murder. His phone was never found, so it is impossible to determine whether he was infected with a forensic examination. He is among at least 25 Mexican journalists, apparently selected as candidates for observation for two years.
In statements made through its attorneys, the NGO denied “false allegations” about its clients’ activities, but said it would “continue to investigate all credible allegations of abuse and take appropriate action.”
The Israeli Defense Minister strictly regulates the activities of the NSU, granting individual export licenses before surveillance technology can be sold to a new country.
A study conducted by Amnesty’s security lab, a technical partner of the Pegasus project, found traces of its activity in 37 of the 67 phones tested.
Analysis of the consortium’s leaks revealed at least 10 governments that are believed to be NSU clients who entered numbers into the system: Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Hungary, India and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). .
Analysis of the data shows that the client country of the NSU, which chose the largest number of numbers, more than 15,000 – is Mexico, where it is known that many different government agencies have bought “Pegasus”. According to the proposed analysis, both Morocco and the UAE have selected more than 10,000 numbers.
Selected phone numbers cover more than 45 countries on four continents. In European countries, more than 1,000 numbers, which, according to the analysis, are chosen by NSO customers.
Rwanda, Morocco, India and Hungary have denied using Pegasus to hack the phones of those on the list. The governments of Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, the United Arab Emirates and Dubai did not respond to the invitation to comment.
The Pegasus project is likely to provoke controversy over government oversight in several countries suspected of using the technology. The investigation alleges that the Hungarian government of Viktor Orbán used NSO technology in its so-called war with the media, persecuting investigative journalists in the country, as well as one of the few leaders of Hungary’s independent media.
The leak and forensic analysis also show that the NSO spy tool was used by Saudi Arabia and its close ally, the UAE, to target close associates of slain Washington Post journalist Jamal Hashoghi within months of his death. According to the source, the Turkish prosecutor investigating his death was also a candidate for evil.
Claudio Guarneri, head of Amnesty International’s security lab, said that after infecting a Pegasus phone, an NSO customer could effectively take control of the phone, allowing him to receive messages, calls, photos and emails secretly from a person, activate cameras or microphones, and read content. applications for exchanging encrypted messages, such as WhatsApp, Telegram and Signal.