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In the latest controversy involving NSO Group Technologies, an Israeli spyware company, it has been uncovered that the company made software that has been used to target activists and journalists.

In an investigation led and published by The Washington Post as well as 16 media partners, the NSO software was used in successful and attempted hacks of 37 phones belonging to business executives, human rights activities, journalists, and two women close to Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist murdered in 2018. 

The numbers appeared on a list of more than 50,000 phone numbers located in countries known to surveil their people.

A leak

The list was shared by Hidden Stories, a journalism non-profit, and Amnesty International. Amnesty described that it obtained the data through a leak, but did not offer additional detail or identify who leaked the information.

The people targeted by the NSO software were targeted using Pegasus, described as military-grade software and possibly one of the most potent pieces of spyware ever made.

The Post was able to match about 1,000 of the 50,000 numbers to targets in 50 countries.

A wide net

Of the 1,000 numbers, some of the targets identified include Arab royal family members, at least 65 business execs, 189 journalists, 85 human rights activists, and over 600 politicians and government officials. Some heads of state and prime ministers are included in the list.

Some journalists targeted work for CNN, Voice of America, The New York Times, The Associated Press, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Al Jazeera, and other major media houses.

NSO denied the findings, calling them exaggerated and baseless, which doesn’t come as a surprise. Facebook accused NSO of hacking about 1,400 WhatsApp users using US servers, which caused NSO to counter that it had sovereign immunity from the lawsuit the social media giant brought against it. It remains to be seen what the fallout of this new scandal will be.