Pegasus Project – Spyware by cellphone – zero-click activation.
CNN has not independently verified the findings of the Pegasus Project probe. The seventeen participating outlets are Forbidden Stories, The Washington Post, Le Monde, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Die Zeit, The Guardian, Daraj, Direkt36, Le Soir, Knack, Radio France, The Wire, Proceso, Aristegui Noticias, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, Haaretz and PBS “Frontline.”
For an overview of the findings thus far, “Frontline” is running a live blog linking to major stories from the other partners.
Here’s the key quote from Dana Priest, one of the bylines on the WaPo report, who is also featured in a “Frontline” report. “For the first time,” Priest said, “we’ve been able to give readers a sense of just how enormous the private and unregulated spying business has become. It’s been a unique, and actually thrilling, experience to work with so many foreign journalists to pool our sources and resources to bring this difficult story out in the open, where it should be.”
How did this investigation begin? Washington Post executive editor Sally Buzbee explained it in a letter from the editor on Sunday afternoon. “The project was conceived by Forbidden Stories, a Paris-based journalism nonprofit, which, along with Amnesty International, a human rights group, had access to records that formed the basis of our reporting: a list of more than 50,000 cellphone numbers concentrated in countries known to surveil their citizens and also known to have been clients of NSO Group,” Buzbee wrote.
“Although the purpose of the list could not be conclusively determined, it is a fascinating document,” Buzbee wrote. “Out of the more than 1,000 identities that could be confirmed, there were at least 85 human rights activists, 65 business executives, several members of Arab royal families, 189 journalists, and 600 government officials and politicians, spread across more than 50 countries.”
Amnesty’s Security Lab was able to examine 67 smartphones. “Of those, 23 were successfully infected and 14 showed signs of attempted penetration,” WaPo reported. “For the remaining 30, the tests were inconclusive, in several cases because the phones had been replaced.”
WaPo interviewed some of the affected individuals, including Siddharth Varadarajan, co-founder of The Wire, a nonprofit news outlet in India. “This is an incredible intrusion, and journalists should not have to deal with this,” he said after learning that his phone was infected. “Nobody should have to deal with this.”
David J. Hickton is the founding director of the University of Pittsburgh Institute for Cyber Law, Policy, and Security. Hickton was nominated for United States Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania by President Barack Obama on May 20, 2010, and was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on Aug. 5, 2010.