Calls mount for further investigation into the Israeli company, the NSO Group, after it was learned that Pegasus, a spyware sold by the firm to “authoritarian governments,” was used to spy and gather information on more than 50,000 journalists and activists according to an investigation into a massive data leak by 17 media outlets.

The investigation lists targets of surveillance in over 50 countries. The governments of Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Hungary, India, and the United Arab Emirates were among the ones using the spyware.

The Guardian, one of the news media sites participating in the investigation, stated that the mention of phone numbers in the leaked data does not necessarily mean that the associated devices were hacked. 

The targets included journalists for media organizations around the world including Agence France-Presse, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, The New York Times, Al Jazeera, France 24, Radio Free Europe, Mediapart, El País, the Associated Press, Le Monde, Bloomberg, the Economist, Reuters and Voice of America, according to the Guardian’s report. 

Suspected infections by NSO Group's Pegasus spyware.
An earlier report on Pegasus software data breaches highlights the targeted areas. (Citizen Labs 2018 report)

An International Outcry

Two targets of the software were the wife of the murdered Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi, Hanan Elatr, who was targeted six months before he was killed, and his fiancée, Hatice Cengiz.

“I am deeply shocked that I have been targeted while I was in such pain waiting to find out what had happened to Jamal. This was the worst time of my life and yet the killers were spying on me. They have no shame. They must be brought to justice,” Cengiz posted on Twitter.

This massive investigation was coordinated by the Paris-based journalism nonprofit Forbidden Stories. Amnesty International’s Security Lab provided technical support.

Amnesty International said the spying and data breach by the Pegasus software highlights the need for limits on this technology.