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18 Jul 2021

Phineas Rueckert, Forbidden Stories

Clients of NSO Group used its spyware as ‘global weapon’ to silence nearly 200 journalists in 20 countries, investigation finds

"Pegasus: The New Global Weapon for Silencing Journalists", 18 July 2021

... [...] nearly 200 journalists around the world [...] have been selected as targets by NSO clients, according to the Pegasus Project, an investigation released today by a global consortium of more than 80 journalists from 17 media outlets in 10 countries, coordinated by Forbidden Stories with the technical support of Amnesty International’s Security Lab.

Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International had access to a leak of more than 50,000 records of phone numbers that NSO clients selected for surveillance. According to an analysis of these records by Forbidden Stories and its partners, the phones of at least 180 journalists were selected in 20 countries by at least 10 NSO clients. These government clients range from autocratic (Bahrain, Morocco and Saudi Arabia) to democratic (India and Mexico) and span the entire world, from Hungary and Azerbaijan in Europe to Togo and Rwanda in Africa. As the Pegasus Project will show, many of them have not been afraid to select journalists, human rights defenders, political opponents, businesspeople and even heads of state as targets of this invasive technology.

Stating “contractual and national security considerations” NSO Group wrote in a letter to Forbidden Stories and its media partners that it “cannot confirm or deny the identity of our government customers.” Forbidden Stories and its media partners reached out to each of the government clients cited in this project, all of whom either failed to respond to the questions by the deadline or denied being clients of NSO Group...

...The leaked phone numbers, which Forbidden Stories and its partners analyzed over months, reveal for the first time the staggering scale of surveillance of journalists and human rights defenders – despite NSO Group’s repeated claims that its tools are exclusively used for targeting serious criminals and terrorists – and confirm the fears of press advocates about the scope of spyware being used against journalists...

...Journalists appearing in these records have received legal threats, others have been arrested and defamed, and some have had to flee their countries due to persecution – only to later find that they were still under surveillance. In rare cases journalists have been killed after having been selected as targets. Today’s revelations make clear that the technology has emerged as a key tool in the hands of repressive government actors and the intelligence agencies that work for them...

...Surveillance of journalists is not new, security experts say. What has changed is the market for spyware.

Whereas in the past governments developed spyware tools in-house, private spyware companies like NSO Group, FinFisher and Hacking Team saw an opening for selling their products to governments who didn’t previously have the technical expertise to develop their own signals intelligence programs, according to Galperin. This created a sort of “wild west” of spying on journalists and activists, she said...

Part of the following timelines

Investigation finds NSO Group spyware sold to governments used against activists, politicians & journalists; company denies allegations

Investigation finds NSO Group spyware sold to governments used against activists, politicians & journalists; company denies allegations