Over the weekend, an international consortium of news outlets reported that several authoritarian governments — including Mexico, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates — used spyware developed by NSO Group to hack into the phones of thousands of their most vocal critics, including journalists, activists, politicians and business executives.
A leaked list of 50,000 phone numbers of potential surveillance targets was obtained by Paris-based journalism nonprofit Forbidden Stories
and Amnesty International
and shared with the reporting consortium, including The Washington Post
and The Guardian
. Researchers analyzed the phones of dozens of victims to confirm they were targeted by the NSO’s Pegasus spyware, which can access all of the data on a person’s phone. The reports also confirm new details of the government customers themselves, which NSO Group closely guards. Hungary
, a member of the European Union where privacy from surveillance is supposed to be a fundamental right for its 500 million residents, is named as an NSO customer.
The reporting shows for the first time how many individuals are likely targets of NSO’s intrusive device-level surveillance. Previous reporting had put the number of known victims
in the hundreds or more than a thousand.
NSO Group sharply rejected the claims. NSO has long said that it doesn’t know who its customers target, which it reiterated in a statement to TechCrunch on Monday.
Researchers at Amnesty, whose work was reviewed by the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto, found that NSO can deliver Pegasus by sending a victim a link which when opened infects the phone, or silently and without any interaction at all through a “zero-click” exploit, which takes advantage of vulnerabilities in the iPhone’s software. Citizen Lab researcher Bill Marczak said in a tweet
that NSO’s zero-clicks worked on iOS 14.6, which until today was the most up-to-date version.
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