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Israeli Spyware from NSO Group Said to Be Used Against Journalists

Israel Cybersecurity firm NSO Group develops ways to break through encryptions and security systems. NSO Group is now in hot water over allegations that it willfully aids in the violation of people’s human rights around the world. Specifically, they are charged with helping governments hack the telephones of journalists.

The accusation comes from none other than Amnesty International which led a project to investigate NSO Group’s Pegasus Spyware software. This project, called the Pegasus Project, is a collaboration of more than 80 journalists from 17 media organizations in 10 countries. The organization asserts that NSO Group’s spyware has been used to facilitate” human rights violations around the world on a massive scale.” This accusation, says Amnesty International, is based on what they describe as a major investigation into the leak of 50,000 phone numbers of potential surveillance targets. These included heads of state, activists and journalists, including Jamal Khashoggi’s family.

They also come just a few days after Candiru, an Israeli cybersecurity company which develops spyware, was charged with selling its tech to those who use it against people fighting for their human rights. Candiru is accused of behaving like a mercenary.

NSO Group develops cybersecurity technology to help government agencies detect and prevent terrorism and crime. Its products are used by licensed government intelligence and law-enforcement agencies. NSO boasts that its technology has helped prevent terrorism, break up criminal operations, find missing persons, and assist search and rescue teams.

The NSO Group is actually being sued by WhatsApp over a bug which was exploited to breach WhatsApp’s encryption. The suit was filed in October 2019, accusing NSO Group of creating and exploiting the bug which was used to hack into targets’ phone.

The lawsuit surrounds someone taking advantage of a security breach in WhatsApp in 2019 and using it to install the NSO Pegasus spyware. The spyware was spread to people whenever a user made a WhatsApp call to another user, even if the call went unanswered.

Agnès Callamard, Secretary General of Amnesty International. Said, “These revelations blow apart any claims by NSO that such attacks are rare and down to rogue use of their technology. While the company claims its spyware is only used for legitimate criminal and terror investigations, it’s clear its technology facilitates systemic abuse. They paint a picture of legitimacy, while profiting from widespread human rights violations.”

NSO Group has denied these allegations in a strongly worded statement.

The company says that the report is “full of wrong assumptions and uncorroborated theories that raise serious doubts about the reliability and interests of the sources.” NSO Group asserts that whoever the “unidentified sources” cited may have been, their claims have “no factual basis and are far from reality.”

“After checking their claims, we firmly deny the false allegations made in their report. Their sources have supplied them with information which has no factual basis, as evident by the lack of supporting documentation for many of their claims,” read he statement. “In fact, these allegations are so outrageous and far from reality, that NSO is considering a defamation lawsuit.”

NSO Group further dismissed claims that data used by the investigation was leaked from their servers as a, ”complete lie and ridiculous, since such data never existed on any of our servers.”

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