NSO Group’s spyware Pegasus is found to have targeted 300 Indian telephone numbers including that of two Union cabinet ministers, three Opposition leaders, a constitutional authority and several journalists, scientists and businessmen, a global collaborative investigative project has revealed after examining a leaked database of phone numbers listed by multiple government clients of the surveillance firm.
The Wire, which was part of 16 media firms conducting the investigation, said the leaked global database of 50,000 phone numbers was first accessed by French firm Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International before being shared with The Wire, The Guardian, Die Zeit, Washington Post, Suddeutsche Zeitung, Le Monde and 10 other Mexican, Arab and European news organisations.
The report said that forensic tests conducted on a few phones related with the numbers confirmed signs of being targeted by the Pegasus spyware – which is only available to governments –in 37 phones including 10 in India.
The list of 300 Indian phone numbers include those used by two ministers in the Narendra Modi government, three Opposition leaders, 40 journalists, government officials, the legal community and right activists among others. One of the numbers is said to have been registered in the name of a sitting Supreme Court judge, although the website is still confirming the same.
The Wire said it will reveal the names in the coming days.
NSO group, which sells Pegasus has said that it provides the software only to “vetted governments” which is believed to be over 36 and includes intelligence, military and law enforcement agencies. The firm, however, refused to identify its clients.
Forbidden Story, which initially accessed the leaked database, says it contained phone numbers selected as targets by clients of NSO. The firm, however, has rubbished the claims, saying that its clients may have used the numbers for “other purposes”, The Wire said.
Most of the 50,000-odd telephone numbers were found to be from 10 country clusters – India, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.
The Centre, on the other hand, has denied any involvement in the hacking with the Prime Minister’s Office saying, the “allegations regarding government surveillance on specific people has no concrete basis or truth associated with it whatsoever.”
Without admitting or deny to be using the Pegasus spyware, the government said, “Each case of interception, monitoring, and decryption is approved by the competent authority…The procedure therefore ensure that any interception, monitoring or decryption of any information through any computer resource is done as per due process of law.”