The Pegasus spyware scandal is not exclusive to Hungary. The investigation by 17 investigative journalism outlets found thousands of phone numbers around the world which were targeted with NSO Group’s software. Even the phone numbers of prestigious public figures like French President Emmanuel Macron and European Council President Charles Michel have been found on the list. The product’s creators say they have nothing to do with the surveillance list, but many organizations and software companies are calling for international accountability.
There is currently no certainty whether Macron or Michel were in fact watched, but what is confirmed is that they were among the individuals targeted by the alleged cyber-attacks. According to the Washington Post’s list, the South African president and the state leaders of Pakistan, Egypt, and Morocco can all be found on the list of 50 thousand phone numbers.
Multiple other former and current officials from around the world can be found as well, including former European Commission President Romano Prodi.
France has already begun investigating the issue, first into the surveillance of their journalists, but now towards the Moroccan government, which they suspect of being responsible for the surveillance of their president.
Pegasus Intended for Gov’ts to Hunt Criminals
The frightening aspect of this whole ordeal is that Pegasus was never intended for government officials to monitor their political rivals. The software was developed specifically to give nations the ability to find the perpetrators of organized crime, pedophilia, human trafficking, and terrorism. NSO Group has emphasized that it only sold its product to national governments and government agencies.
According to the Israeli private company, 40 countries are clients of the software. Morocco, Rwanda, and India, which, like Hungary, have all been accused of conducting illegal surveillance, have denied the allegations. Mexico, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates did not respond to the questions of the Washington Post.
NSO Group Founder Says Company is Unaffiliated with the List
One of NSO’s founders, Shalev Hulio, claims that NSO has no affiliation with the list of phone numbers which have been found to be targets of Pegasus hacking attempts.
Hulio stated that some of NSO’s clients had misused Pegasus in the past, but these clients were shut off, with the company being obligated not to share their names. According to two people familiar with the company these clients included Saudi Arabia, Dubai, and Mexico.
NSO is able to hit a kill switch if a client breaks the rules of their agreement. They are also able to identify phone numbers targeted by the software only if the client or a whistleblower provides them.
The list of 50 thousand phone numbers allegedly targeted by Pegasus, Hulio says, have no affiliation to NSO. He thinks it is absurd that investigative journalists are basing their arguments on a source of, as he puts it, unknown origin. He claimed that the 50 thousand mark is impossible, since NSO’s clients only average around 100 targets a year.
Snowden Says Pegasus Surpasses Former Intelligence Gathering Abilities
Edward Snowden, the former CIA agent known for leaking critical information from the United States’ National Security Agency, finds the magnitude of the Pegasus scandal shocking. He considers the current issue more serious than the scandal he started in 2013, since NSO Group is a “profit-oriented company.”
Snowden told German newspaper Die Zeit that NSO will sell their product to any trustworthy client if they can get away with it without being compromised. He said the entire cybersecurity industry is based on the lie of claiming to protect people, but in reality using covert tools to spy on innocent people unjustifiably.
Snowden added that the countries accused of the illegal surveillance cannot bug the houses of 50 thousand people, but “if they can access the phone in your pocket, they will do it.”
Amazon Cuts off NSO Access, WhatsApp Voices Concerns
Amazon Web Services have cut off their infrastructure and accounts linked to NSO Group, Hungarian state newswire MTI reported based on an article from Vice. One of Amazon’s networks, CloudFront, was used to deploy Pegasus on the targets of NSO clients, including a French human rights lawyer, according to Amnesty International.
Amnesty International’s report states that NSO is using other companies’ services, such as Digital Ocean, OVH, and Linode as well.
WhatsApp, whos application has previously been used as a medium for Pegasus to access targeted people’s phones, is also speaking out. Will Cathcart, the head of the company, voiced his concern for the controversy, urging a “global moratorium on the use of unaccountable surveillance technology,” The Indian Express reports.
Cathcart also tweeted that “NSO’s dangerous spyware is used to commit horrible human rights abuses all around the world and it must be stopped.”
In the featured photo: President of France Emmanuel Macron. Photo by Szilárd Koszticsák/MTI