How Israeli Pegasus Software Is Used to Stalk Journalists, Lawyers, and Human Rights Fighters

Seventeen international media outlets, including the French newspaper Le Monde and the Washington Post, uncovered on July 18 a “Projet Pegasus” (Project Pegasus), which was designed to search for journalists, lawyers, human rights activists and opposition leaders in many countries. Pegasus” (‘Pegasus Project’). Projet Pegasus is a powerful spy software developed by an Israeli company called NSO Group for more than a dozen governments, and international media and its partners have analyzed more than 50,000 phone calls that were potentially attacked by this digital weapon.

“Le Monde and 16 other news outlets obtained more than 50,000 phone numbers that could have been targeted by the powerful Israeli spy software, Project Pegasus. The investigation, which included 180 journalists, 600 politicians, 85 human rights activists and 65 entrepreneurs, found that once the Pegasus digital weapon was loaded onto a cell phone, it could seize call information, e-mails, photos, access to data and even tap into the phone conversations of phone holders.

The Israeli company that developed the software, NSO, founded in 2011, has been accused of facilitating dictatorial regimes, but the former claims that the software’s functions are designed to gather intelligence for the fight against criminal networks and terrorism. However, a study of more than 50,000 phone numbers intended for a dozen foreign governments that were potentially attacked by the ‘Pegasus’ program, obtained by various international media outlets and Amnesty International, among others, confirms that a large number of these calls were tainted by ‘Pegasus’ and that international media and The Forbidden Stories Group, which coordinates international media and human rights associations, has confirmed the credibility of this information and identified a new group of Pegasus victims through sophisticated technical analysis by experts from Amnesty International and Security Lab.

Investigations into the targets of the Pegasus program revealed that NSO customers were secretly using Pegasus software beyond any legal framework. Since its inception in 2011, the company has promoted its software as a powerful tool specifically designed to combat terrorism and organized crime, and that it could be used legally. However, data reviewed by international media and partners show that terrorism and organized crime account for only a small portion of its customers’ uses.

In Azerbaijan, Morocco, and Rwanda, Pegasus software targets journalists, opposition groups, lawyers, and human rights defenders first and foremost. But international media analysis of a series of disclosures shows that “political surveillance” is not an accident, but the norm.

NSO is considered “soft power” by Israel, and while providing this soft power to some foreign governments, it has also enabled the Israeli government to resume diplomatic relations with some countries. The Israeli government has restored diplomatic relations with a number of countries. At least part of the NSO group has recently helped Israel get closer to Saudi Arabia, Hungary, and Morocco, among others.

Therefore, it cannot be lost on either NSO or the Israeli government that a large portion of the customers who buy Pegasus software use it to spy on their own opposition and their own people, as well as to gather industrial and commercial intelligence on their partners and on neighboring governments.

When questioned by Le Monde, the NSO Group categorically denied the “allegations” made by the international media, accusing them of having inaccurate sources of information without any reliable basis. The company also added that it had no real-time knowledge of its customers’ use of Pegasus software, let alone the possibility of controlling it. But the company said it would continue to investigate “credible allegations” carefully and, if true, may disconnect some customers’ software systems.

The scale and extent of human rights violations are also related to the nature of Pegasus, which is not a simple “phone tapping” tool, but a powerful and efficient spyware that can This spy software can be obtained in the phone photos, mailing addresses, text messages exchange for rapid comprehensive analysis. The software can also be installed remotely without the customer’s knowledge, even without the target clicking on a malicious link, discreetly taking advantage of Apple software and Google’s security vulnerabilities, which these giants are not always quick to correct.

So “safe”, “discreet” and “good” that some countries use it as an ideal tool for espionage, and France has become a victim of this software. Thousands of French phone numbers beginning with “33” became the target of “Pegasus” attacks, research shows that the service points to France’s “allies” Morocco, the reporter asked about this when The Moroccan authorities “categorically deny the allegations”. Targeting diplomats, senior civil servants and elected representatives, NSO’s software thus helped Morocco target the entire French state apparatus at a cheap cost and at the click of a finger. In addition to using this software to spy on journalists and activists in their country, Moroccan authorities have also targeted French newspapers including ‘Le Monde’ ‘Le Figaro’ ‘Mediapart’ More than thirty journalists and some media owners are “remotely monitored”.

However, while Project Pegasus is not a mass surveillance scandal like the one Snowden revealed was carried out by the NSA, and the Pegasus victims were individual targets of the government and intelligence services, the two scandals have one thing in common: they show, to a large extent, the use of the most sophisticated methods of surveillance. To a large extent, they show that spies who use the most sophisticated tools to monitor and control all the details of life are never held accountable.