Special Report: NSO's Group Pegasus Spyware Widely Used Against Journalists, Activists, and Others Around the Globe

At least 37 journalists smartphones hacked, Two women close to murdered journalist Khashoggi were spied on, Hungary's far-right leaders tracked journalists, NSO promises an investigation

Sparking unprecedented investigations around the globe, Paris-based journalism non-profit Forbidden Stories and human rights group Amnesty International shared with 16 news organizations a list of more than 50,000 phone numbers that are concentrated in countries known to engage in surveillance of their citizens. The countries are also known to have been clients of the notorious Israeli spyware firm, NSO Group. Investigations showed that the intrusive spyware supplied by NSO called Pegasus was used in attempted and successful hacks of 37 smartphones belonging to journalists, human rights activists, business executives, and two women close to murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Among the journalists on the list were reporters for CNN, the Associated Press, Voice of America, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg News, Le Monde in France, the Financial Times in London, and Al Jazeera in Qatar. Roula Khalaf, who became the first female editor in the Financial Times last year, was selected as a potential target throughout 2018. Amnesty shared backup copies of data on four iPhones with Citizen Lab, which confirmed that they showed signs of Pegasus infection.

Although NSO initially called the findings exaggerated and baseless, company CEO and founder Shalev Hulio later called the allegations “disturbing” and promised to launch an investigation. He also said the company would terminate clients' contracts in cases where they learned the tool had been misused.

In one such case where the tool has been misused, Hungary’s far-right regime leader Viktor Orbán deployed Pegasus as a weapon against investigative journalists and the circle of one of the country’s last remaining independent media owners.

Separate reporting showed that Israel secretly authorized a group of cyber-surveillance firms to work for the government of Saudi Arabia even after it became clear the Saudi royal family ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The Israeli government encouraged NSO and two other companies to continue working with Saudi Arabia and issued a new license for a fourth to do similar work.

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