While centred around US-based journalists and activists, new research suggests that spyware intended for tracking potential terrorists and criminals was found on 37 smartphones that shouldn’t have had it installed. The software, developed by Israeli-based NSO Group, is called Pegasus and allowed access to messages, files and microphones on the affected devices.
Through the smartphone’s looking glass
The investigation was prompted by media outlets in the States, along with a Paris journalism nonprofit called Hidden Stories and the human rights group Amnesty International. The groups found a leaked list of numbers reportedly linked to surveillance by certain countries — all of who turned out to be clients of NSO Group.
While developed as a tool to track potential terrorists or criminals, Pegasus was sold to governments across the country. Apparently, it’s also useful when tracking the smartphone data of journalists from some of the Sates’ largest media agencies.
“The list of journalists dates back to 2016, the Post reports, and includes reporters from the [Washington] Post, CNN, the Associated Press, Voice of America, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg News, Le Monde, the Financial Times, and Al Jazeera,” The Verge details.
The Verge contacted NSO, hoping to gain some insight, after which the organisation quickly denied the claims. According to the group, the report is “… full of wrong assumptions and uncorroborated theories that raise serious doubts about the reliability and interests of the sources.”
According to the source, NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware has been accused of contributing to an overall media surveillance campaign. In 2020 researchers found the spyware installed on 36 Al Jazeera journalists’ phones. In 2019, WhatsApp sued NSO Group, claiming its software was used to hack some of its users. That’s not a good track record at all.