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Target list of pegasus widens

Target list of pegasus widens
BOSTON, JUL 20 (AP) | Publish Date: 7/20/2021 11:00:19 AM IST

Human rights and press freedom activists are up in arms about a new report on NSO Group, the notorious Israeli hacker-for-hire company.

 The report, by a global media consortium, expands public knowledge of the target list used in NSO’s military-grade spyware. According to the report, that now not only includes journalists, rights activists and opposition political figures, but also people close to them.

The groups have decried the virtual absence of regulation of commercial surveillance tools. If the allegations of widespread targeting by NSO’s Pegasus malware are even partly true, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said in a statement, a “red line has been crossed again and again with total impunity.”

 Here’s what you need to know about this issue.

NSO not new to unethical hacking. 

The new investigation, based on leaked data of unspecified origin, builds significantly on previous efforts. Paris-based journalism nonprofit  Forbidden Stories and the human rights group Amnesty International obtained the data and say that it people potential targeted for surveillance by NSO’s clients. 

Journalists from the consortium combed through a list of more than 50,000 cellphone numbers, identifying more than 1,000 individuals in 50 countries. They include 189 journalists, 85 human rights activists and several heads of state. Among the journalists were employees of The Associated Press, Reuters, CNN, The Wall Street Journal, Le Monde and The Financial Times.

Amnesty was able to examine the smartphones of 67 individuals on the list, finding evidence of an attempted or successful Pegasus infection  on 37.

 Its investigators found that the phone of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, was infected just four days after he was killed in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in 2018. They found Pegasus on the phones of the co-founders of the Indian independent online outlet The Wire and repeat infections on the phones of two Hungarian investigative journalists with the outlet Direkt36.

The list of potential targets included Roula Khalaf, the editor of the Financial Times. 

Fifty people close to Mexico’s president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, were also on the potential target list. They include his wife, children, aides and cardiologist. Lopez Obrador was in opposition at the time. A Mexican reporter  whose phone number was added to the list in that time period, Cecilio Pineda, was assassinated in 2017.

After Mexico, the largest share of potential targets were in the Middle East, where Saudi Arabia is reported to be among NSO clients. Also on the list were numbers in France, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Pakistan, Morocco and Rwanda. 

According to the The Committee to Protect Journalists, there are few effective barriers to prevent autocratic governments from using sophisticated surveillance technology to attempt cowing or silencing a free press.

How can infection be thwarted?

No one not involved in sensitive information-gathering outside the U.S. needs to worry much. Customers of NSO Group’s malware and other commercial surveillance tools typically focus on high-profile targets.

But those in NSO’s crosshairs may not be able to avoid infection. Its methods of infection often don’t require user interaction, such as clicking on a link in a text message. 

One such “zero-click” option exploited a flaw in WhatsApp, the popular encrypted mobile-messaging service. WhatsApp and its parent company Facebook  sued NSO in San Francisco federal court in 2019. 

The WhatsApp suit accuses NSO Group of targeting some 1,400 WhatsApp users. Until this week, that was the largest number of potential targets of the Israeli company’s spyware amassed in one place. 

Launched on December 3,1990. Nagaland Post is the first and highest circulated newspaper of Nagaland state. Nagaland Post is also the first newspaper in Nagaland to be published in multi-colour.

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