PM Imran potential target in Israeli NSO Spyware Scandal

India is one of the ten countries which have been listed as a client of the NSO Group

ISLAMABAD: At least one number once used by Prime Minister Imran Khan was among the tens of thousands of smartphone numbers, including those of activists, journalists and politicians from around the world that were targeted through Israeli spyware.  

According to a report in Washington Post, India was one of the ten countries which have been listed as a client of the NSO Group and its Pegasus malware. However, the report did not confirm if the attempt on the premier’s number was successful or not.

The American publication stated that hundreds of numbers from Pakistan appeared on the Indian surveillance list. More than 1,000 Indian numbers were also on the list.

Meanwhile, Israeli Publication, Haaretz, reported that several Pakistani officials, Kashmiri freedom fighters, Indian Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, and even an Indian supreme court judge were targetted.

Sources have informed that India tried to tap the Federal Cabinet members’ calls and messages through the spyware, prompting Pakistan to develop new software for its federal ministers.

Following the development, a high-level meeting of the civil and military leadership was called which will decide a future course of action against India’s spying attempt.

Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry expressed concern on the report and said the unethical policies of the Modi government have ‘dangerously polarised India and the region’.

Private Israeli malware used to spy on journalists, activists

Activists, journalists and politicians around the world have been spied on using cellphone malware developed by a private Israeli firm, reports said on Sunday.

The use of the software, called Pegasus and developed by Israel’s NSO Group, was reported on by The Washington Post, the Guardian, Le Monde and other news outlets who collaborated on an investigation into a data leak.

The leak consists of more than 50,000 smartphone numbers believed to have been identified as connected to people of interest by NSO clients since 2016, although it was unclear how many devices were actually targeted or surveilled. Meanwhile, NSO has denied any wrongdoing, labelling the allegations “false.”

The Post said a forensic analysis of 37 of the smartphones on the list showed there had been “attempted and successful” hacks of the devices, including those of two women close to Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Among the numbers on the list are those of journalists for Agence France-Presse, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, The New York Times, Al Jazeera, El Pais, the Associated Press, Le Monde, Bloomberg, The Economist, and Reuters.

The use of the Pegasus software to hack the phones of Al Jazeera reporters and a Moroccan journalist has been reported previously by Citizen Lab, a research center at the University of Toronto, and Amnesty International.

The Post said the numbers on the list were unattributed, but other media outlets participating in the project were able to identify more than 1,000 people in more than 50 countries.

They included several members of Arab royal families, at least 65 business executives, 85 human rights activists, 189 journalists and more than 600 politicians and government officials — including heads of state, prime ministers and cabinet ministers.

The software

Pegasus is a highly invasive tool that can switch on a target’s phone camera and microphone, as well as access data on the device, effectively turning a phone into a pocket spy. In some cases, it can be installed without the need to trick a user into initiating a download.

NSO issued a denial that focused on the report by Forbidden Stories, calling it “full of wrong assumptions and uncorroborated theories,” and threatening a defamation lawsuit. “We firmly deny the false allegations made in their report,” NSO said.