A bombshell report says investigators have found evidence of powerful spyware designed to track criminals on the phones of journalists, human rights activists and politicians.
Some 23 phones indicated they had been hacked and another 14 showed signs of an attempted hack using Pegasus software licensed by Israel-based NSO Group, a private technology firm. An investigation by the Washington Post and several media partners.
Spyware can be sent in a message, but it may not even need to be clicked on to hack the phone – one cyberattack expert called it “eloquently bad.”
Using spyware, hackers can access anything on the phone and may even be able to activate the camera and microphone.
“There is nothing wrong with building technologies that allow you to collect data; It’s sometimes necessary,” Arizona State University IT director Timothy Summers told The Washington Post.
But Summers, a former cybersecurity engineer at US intelligence, said it is likely to be used to spy on nearly the entire world’s population.
“But humanity is not in a place where we have power that is accessible to anyone.”
The number of alleged hacks and attempted hacks may be only a fraction of the total. Of the 67 phones voluntarily offered for review, 37 showed signs of hacking or attempted hacking, but that doesn’t mean the other 30 weren’t under surveillance, the report said.
According to the report, after obtaining a list of more than 50,000 phone numbers in 2016 as part of their investigation into Pegasus, journalists identified the numbers and requested voluntary access to the phones.
The Washington Post said the list identified more than 1,000 people in more than 50 countries, including 189 journalists from organizations such as LOVEBYLIFE, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and LOVEBYLIFE. The report said more than 600 of those identified are politicians or government employees, including heads of state.
Two people apparently targeted were directly linked to Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist who was murdered in October 2019, the report states. The report claimed that his wife was allegedly targeted before his death and that his girlfriend was allegedly targeted a few days after the murder.
The report said Mexican journalist Cecilio Pineda, who appeared on the list twice, was shot and killed during a car wash. NSO denied any connection Company and for the deaths of Khashoggi and Pineda.
A lawyer for NSO told the publication that the investigation was based on misinterpretation and misappropriation.
“The NSO Group has good reason to believe that this list of ‘thousands of phone numbers’ is not a list of numbers targeted by governments using Pegasus, but instead, a much larger list of numbers used by NSO Group. client for other purposes,” said the complaint counsel.
The overall list, which does not identify the people associated with the numbers or why they are on the list, was obtained by Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International. The post said it is unclear where the list came from or who may have used it, but the company says its clients include agencies from 40 different countries.
According to the investigation, a large number of people on the list were in places such as the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, who are or have been allegedly NSO customers.
The report said NSO claimed it violates customer policies for human rights violations and recently terminated two contracts.
Analysis of the phones found no evidence that spyware affected any phones in the US, although a dozen US observers were listed. NSO said none of their products could be used to monitor US phones.