Software from an Israeli spy company has been found on the phones of human rights activists, journalists and lawyers all over the world. International media have obtained a list of telephone numbers of 50,000 victims who may have been hacked.
Media such as The Washington Post, Le Monde, The Guardian and Süddeutsche Zeitung report this on the basis of their own joint research. It is said to be a data breach of the software Pegasus of the Israeli spy company NSO Group.
Pegasus is the most famous spy software of the NSO Group. That spyware could work on both Android and iOS, and could eavesdrop on target conversations, take screenshots, and transmit data such as location, internet history, and the user’s address book.
For years, NSO itself has argued that it sells software such as Pegasus to governments and does not know how that software is then used. Pegasus can hack smartphones if the owner presses an infected link. Although: Pegasus appears to be able to be installed without the active action of the victim. On an iPhone or iPad, receiving a malicious message in iMessage is enough to get infected without clicking on anything else. That vulnerability is still in the latest version of iOS, says security researcher Bill Marczak of Citizen Lab.
Such bad operating system security holes are worth a lot of money. There is discussion about the use and concealment of such leaks. If the government knows such a leak, the line of thought is, a criminal will also find out and every user is at risk. In the Netherlands, police and Investigation Services are now allowed to keep leaks secret and use them under certain conditions, but this is criticised.
On the list of 50,000 to collect the phone numbers, the names of more than 180 journalists from news organizations such as CNN, AP, Voice of America, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg News, Le Monde, The Financial Times, and Al Jazeera.
Also on the list are murdered Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi and his fiancée. However, it remains unclear which phones were actually hacked.
In response to the revelations, NSO denies that the technology has been used against Khashoggi. The Israeli company also reports that the investigation contained flawed assumptions and factual errors.
“These allegations are so outrageous and far from reality that the NSO is considering a lawsuit for defamation.”
More information on the study will be published in the next three days, according to the international media.