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'Stop What You're Doing and Read This,' Says Snowden

Investigation finds NSO Group spies on journalists, activists using Pegasus spyware
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 19, 2021 2:22 AM CDT
Updated Jul 19, 2021 6:43 AM CDT
Journalists, Activists Targeted by Military-Grade Spyware: Probe
In this July 3, 2020, file photo, Hatice Cengiz, the fiancee of slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, talks to members of the media in Istanbul.   (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel, File)

(Newser) – An investigation by a global media consortium based on leaked targeting data provides further evidence that military-grade malware from Israel-based NSO Group, the world’s most infamous hacker-for-hire outfit, is being used to spy on journalists, human rights activists, and political dissidents, the AP reports. From a list of more than 50,000 cellphone numbers obtained by the Paris-based journalism nonprofit Forbidden Stories and the human rights group Amnesty International and shared with 16 news organizations, journalists were able to identify more than 1,000 individuals in 50 countries who were allegedly selected by NSO clients for potential surveillance. They include 189 journalists, more than 600 politicians and government officials, at least 65 business executives, 85 human rights activists, and several heads of state.

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Amnesty also reported that its forensic researchers had determined that NSO Group's flagship Pegasus spyware was successfully installed on the phone of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi's fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, just four days after he was killed in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in 2018. The company had previously been implicated in other spying on Khashoggi. The source of the leak—and how it was authenticated—was not disclosed. While a phone number's presence in the data does not mean an attempt was made to hack a device, the consortium said it believed the data indicated potential targets of NSO's government clients. In one case highlighted by the Guardian, Mexican reporter Cecilio Pineda Birto was assassinated in 2017 a few weeks after his cell phone number appeared on the leaked list. "Stop what you're doing and read this," tweeted Edward Snowden of the report. "This leak is going to be the story of the year." (Much more here.)

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