Israeli spyware firm under fire for allegedly helping governments hack dissidents’ phones

The phones of journalists, activists, attorneys, members of parliament, and even heads of state were compromised by the spyware.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

Israel’s NSO Group has come under fire after a bombshell report alleged the company was licensing their Pegasus spyware solution to governments who abused the technology to hack the mobile phones of politicians and activists.

The mysterious technology firm is composed of Israel’s intelligence crème de la crème, with former top tier security officials from the Mossad and Shin Bet reportedly employed by the company.

A report in the Washington Post said that Forbidden Stories, a Paris-based journalism NGO, and Amnesty International had conducted a forensic investigation into the use of the spyware by governments against their political enemies.

The organizations shared with the Post and other news organizations a list of names and phone numbers of people that had been targeted.

While NSO has said their technology should be used strictly to monitor terrorists and others who pose a threat to state security, the phones of journalists, activists, attorneys, members of parliament, and even heads of state were compromised by the spyware.

Journalists working in a number of countries on behalf of CNN, the Associated Press, the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg News, the Financial Times and Al Jazeera had their phones hacked, the report claimed.

Mobile phones belonging to people in Bahrain, Hungary, India, Mexico, Morocco, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were hacked by the Pegasus surveillance technology.

NSO Group CEO Shalev Hulio called the report inaccurate and baseless, telling the Post that the technology was never intended for surveillance of private citizens not involved in terrorism.

“The company cares about journalists and activists and civil society in general,” Hulio said.

“We understand that in some circumstances our customers might misuse the system and, in some cases, like we reported in [NSO’s] Transparency and Responsibility Report, we have shut down systems for customers who have misused the system.”

The spyware was reportedly used to target people close to Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Khashoggi was later murdered and dismembered in Istanbul, reportedly on the orders of the Saudi royal family.