Phones of journalists, activists infected with military-grade spyware
An investigation by Washington Post and 16 media partners has made the startling discovery that the phones of 37 journalists and human rights activists had been either attempted to or successfully hacked by an Israeli surveillance firm, and riddled with military-grade spyware.
Washington Post's paywalled article, covered by Cnet, reports that the spyware used in the attacks came from NSO Group, a large surveillance firm based in Israel, which typically grants the use license of the spyware to government agencies for the purpose of tracking criminals and terrorists.
However, this condition was grossly violated by multiple governments in many countries, where it was illegally used to keep tabs on over 37 innocent civilians.
The grisly part of the investigation showed that two of those thirty-seven infiltrated devices belonged to two women who were close to Jamal Khashoggi: a Saudi journalist who was brutally murdered in the Saudi embassy in Turkey, and his body dismembered, for falling out of favor with the Saudi royal family.
One of them was his wife, who was hacked and watched through her phone in the months leading up to Jamal's murder.
The Pegasus Project
The entire investigation was called the Pegasus Project, and spanned multiple countries and thousands of phones in its search of NSO's victims. In fact, Pegasus Project investigators successfully identified over a thousand phones across more than 50 countries in order to narrow down the 37 prime targets.
Not all 37 phones had been successfully penetrated, it seems. While twenty-three had been successfully infected with the NSO spyware, the other 14 devices showed attempts at being hacked which were, however, apparently unsuccessful.
The entire list of suspected NSO targets, Cnet reports, was composed of 67 people, and among those were both prime ministers and heads of state.
NSO firmly denied any involvement
When NSO Group heard of the report on its doings, the firm tried to blatantly shut down the accusations. A statement was issued, claiming that:
"The report by Forbidden Stories is full of wrong assumptions and uncorroborated theories that raise serious doubts about the reliability and interests of the sources. It seems like the 'unidentified sources' have supplied information that has no factual basis and are far from reality."
These words mostly fall on deaf ears, however, as NSO Group's reputation precedes its defenses. The surveillance firm has already previously come to the spotlight for hacking Jeff Bezos, Amazon ex-CEO, and has also been sued for its implication in Khashoggi's murder—alongside a plethora of previous lawsuits by journalists and activists over having their phones hacked by them.