Digital Assets: The Pegasus Spyware From Israel’s NSO Group Hacked Phones Of Journalists And Activists

An investigation by the Washington Post and 15 other news organizations found the spyware was also used on the smartphone of the fiancee of murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Forbidden Stories, a Paris-based journalism nonprofit, and Amnesty International shared a contact list with The Pegasus Project, a collaborative investigation between the Washington Post and 15 other news organizations to investigate smartphone hackings of reporters, human rights activists, business executives and the fiancee of murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The investigation says that military-grade spyware, licensed from Israeli spyware firm NSO Group, was used to target these phones, and that these hacked phones were also on that contact list of more than 50,000 numbers based in countries known to surveil people. (CNBC)

Forensic report by Amnesty International

On July 18, 2021, Amnesty International also made public its Forensic Methodology Report: How to catch NSO Group’s Pegasus,  an accompaniment to the release of the Pegasus Project.

“This research has uncovered widespread, persistent and ongoing unlawful surveillance and human rights abuses perpetrated using NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware,” Amnesty said in the forensic report. “As laid out in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, NSO Group should urgently take pro-active steps to ensure that it does not cause or contribute to human rights abuses within its global operations, and to respond to any human rights abuses when they do occur.”

The report said the Pegasus spyware had perpetrated “zero-click” attacks – these do not require any interaction from the target – since 2018 and which continue until now.

“Most recently, a successful “zero-click” attack has been observed exploiting multiple zero-days to attack a fully patched iPhone 12 running iOS 14.6 in July 2021,” the Amnesty report alleged, referring to the smartphone from Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL)

Elsewhere, the report said: “The analysis of a fully patched iPhone 12 running iOS 14.6 of an Indian journalist (CODE INJRN2) also revealed signs of successful compromise.”

“These most recent discoveries indicate NSO Group’s customers are currently able to remotely compromise all recent iPhone models and versions of iOS,” the report went on to say. “We have reported this information to Apple, who informed us they are investigating the matter.”

Denials by NSO Group

On its website the NSO Group says that it “creates technology that helps government agencies prevent and investigate terrorism and crime to save thousands of lives around the globe.”

“Our products help government intelligence and law-enforcement agencies use technology to meet the challenges of encryption to prevent and investigate terror and crime,” it adds.

In a response to the Pegasus allegations NSO said: “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.”

“As NSO has previously stated, our technology was not associated in any way with the heinous murder of Jamal Khashoggi,” NSO also said. “We can confirm that our technology was not used to listen, monitor, track, or collect information regarding him or his family members mentioned in the inquiry. We previously investigated this claim, which again, is being made without validation.”

Related Story:    Israeli CyberSecurity Firm GK8 Dares Hackers With $250K Bounty                                               

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