19.07.2021 Journalism Rwanda, UAE, Morocco… The Countries Hacking into Journalists’ Phones with Pegasus

Published 19th Jul, 2021

By Ibrahim Adeyemi

Government clients of NSO Group, an international spyware firm, have put more than 180 editors, investigative reporters and other journalists around the world under surveillance.

The spyware firm is contracted to track journalists by hacking their phones using a tool known as “Pegasus”.

Pegasus is the hacking spyware that has the capability to infect billions of phones running either iOS or Android operating systems. The software is capable of compromising a phone, extracting all of the data stored on the device and activating its microphone to eavesdrop on conversations. It is developed and marketed to governments around the world by the NSO Group, an Isreali spyware company.

The countries that have selected journalists as possible surveillance targets include the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Rwanda, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Hungary, India, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco and Saudi Arabia all

NSO claims it is selling the powerful spying tool around the world to fight “serious crime and terrorism”.

But on Sunday, the Guardian UK revealed the names of some of the journalists targeted for surveillance in the world.

Roula Khalaf, the first female editor of Finantial Times, was spotted as a potential target of the government-sponsored surveillance. Her number is included in a leaked list of mobile phone numbers selected for possible surveillance by government clients of NSO.

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Other journalists who were selected as possible candidates for surveillance by NSO’s clients work for some of the world’s most prestigious media organisations. They include the Wall Street Journal, CNN, the New York Times, Al Jazeera, France 24, Radio Free Europe, Mediapart, El País, Associated Press, Le Monde, Bloomberg, Agence France-Presse, the Economist, Reuters and Voice of America.

“Reporters whose numbers appear in the data range from local freelancers, such as the Mexican journalist Cecilio Pineda Birto, who was murdered by attackers armed with guns one month after his phone was selected, through to prize-winning investigative reporters, editors and executives at leading media organisations,” the report part read.

“In addition to the UAE, detailed analysis of the data indicates that the governments of Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Hungary, India, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Rwanda and Saudi Arabia all selected journalists as possible surveillance targets.

“It is not possible to know conclusively whether phones were successfully infected with Pegasus without analysis of devices by forensic experts.

“Amnesty International’s Security Lab, which can detect successful Pegasus infections, found traces of the spyware on the mobile phones of 15 journalists who had agreed to have their phones examined after discovering their number was in the leaked data.”

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Published 19th Jul, 2021

By Ibrahim Adeyemi


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