Tel Aviv, 20 July 2021 (dpa/MIA) – Israeli surveillance software firm NSO was hit by new allegations of targeting journalists and others in a report published by an international consortium of journalists on Sunday.
IT experts found traces of attacks using NSO’s Pegasus software on 37 smartphones belonging to journalists, rights advocates and their relatives and business people, according to the reports.
Outlets including France’s Le Monde, Germany’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Britain’s The Guardian and US newspaper The Washington Post teamed up with Amnesty International and the Forbidden Stories organization to analyze the phone numbers, part of a dataset of more than 50,000.
The numbers were apparently selected by NSO customers as potential spying targets.
NSO vehemently denies the allegations.
The news reports say the Pegasus Project research indicates hundreds of journalists, rights advocates, opposition figures and politicians were selected for monitoring using the spying software.
The phone numbers of more than 180 journalists from various countries were on the list, they reported.
It was not clear how the list was obtained by Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International. The Sueddeutsche Zeitung referred to source confidentiality.
German journalists’ associations have demanded clarification and countermeasures after new allegations emerged.
The chairman of the German Journalists’ Association, Frank Ueberall, spoke on Monday of an “unprecedented surveillance scandal,” while the chairwoman of the German Journalists Union, Monique Hofmann, called for restrictions on the export of surveillance technology.
“Authoritarian states use Pegasus to silence critical and oppositional voices,” she said.
France government spokesman Gabriel Attal described the revelations on Monday as “extremely shocking,” in remarks to broadcaster Franceinfo.
NSO has been accused before of helping totalitarian governments to spy on journalists and dissidents.
Facebook sued NSO in a US court in 2019, alleging the firm had tried to use a WhatsApp security vulnerability that was later fixed to gain access to hundreds of smartphones.
The targets allegedly included journalists, lawyers, dissidents, human rights activists, diplomats and government officials.
NSO software has also been alleged to have played a role in the murder of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi.
According to the Washington Post, two of the smartphones that Amnesty International’s IT experts found traces of Pegasus attacks on belonged to women close to Khashoggi.
NSO said the Forbidden Stories report was “full of wrong assumptions and uncorroborated theories” and that the sources has supplied information with “no factual basis.”
“These allegations are so outrageous and far from reality, that NSO is considering a defamation lawsuit,” the Israeli firm said.
“We would like to emphasize that NSO sells it technologies solely to law enforcement and intelligence agencies of vetted governments for the sole purpose of saving lives through preventing crime and terror acts,” the statement added.