Spyware licensed by an Israeli firm to governments for tracking terrorists and criminals can infect phones without a click and was used to hack smartphones belonging to journalists, human rights activists, business executives and the fiancee of murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashogi .
The phones appeared on a list of more than 50,000 numbers that are concentrated in countries known to engage in surveillance of their citizens and also known as clients of the Israeli firm, NSO Group, according to the investigation by The Post and 16 media partners.
The investigation, titled the Pegasus Project, identified and verified the names of several Arab royal family members, 64 business executives, 85 human rights activists and more than 600 politicians and government officials.
NSO’s Pegasus spyware has been used to target 189 journalists.They include reporters working overseas for several leading U.S.-based news organizations, including a small number from CNN, the Associated Press, the New York Times and more.
The targeting of journalists and activists appears to violate NSO’s stated policy of selling its Pegasus spyware only for use in surveilling terrorists and major criminals.
The widespread use of spyware has emerged as a leading threat to democracies worldwide, critics say. “This is nasty software — like eloquently nasty,” said Timothy Summers, a former cybersecurity engineer at a U.S. intelligence agency.