Critics have claimed this before NSO Group spyware was misused to target the media and other innocent people, but new discoveries could reveal the extent of that abuse. The Washington Post there is shared multi-partner investigation alleging that NSO software Pegasus was used to successfully hack 37 phones, including journalists, activists and two women closest to the murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The victims found themselves on a list of 50,000 phone numbers from 2016 from countries believed to conduct extensive surveillance and use NSO tools, such as Hungary and Saudi Arabia. The list included 1,000 people who clearly did not meet the target criminal goals of the software, including over 600 politicians, 189 journalists, 85 human rights activists and 65 business executives.
About a dozen Americans working abroad were on the list, but investigative partners were unable to conduct forensic studies on most of their phones or find evidence of successful hacking. The NSO said earlier that Pegasus cannot be used to sniff American devices.
The NSO flatly denied the allegations stemming from the investigation. It claimed that the information had “no factual basis” and rejected the view that Pegasus had been used to target Khashoggi or his associates. He argued that he had ruled out access “multiple times” due to past abuses and that the list was too large to target only numbers targeted by client countries. The company went so far as to hire a defamation lawyer, Thomas Clare, who accused the investigation partners of “misinterpreting and mischaracterizing” the data by making “speculative and unfounded assumptions”.
The NSO has in the past filed abuse lawsuits against the states themselves and said it has reviewed the human rights records of a particular state before doing business.
The report comes a year and a half later Facebook sued the NSO for allegedly allowing attacks to exploit calls on WhatsApp and just months after Citizen Lab claimed that NSO software was used to hack Al Jazeera iPhone reporterusing the lack of iMessage. As true as the allegations may be, they will at least affect the NSO’s reputation – casting doubt on the company’s claim that it only serves customers who pursue obvious goals like terrorists.
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