Israeli spyware and adware used to focus on telephones of journalists and activists, investigation finds

An Israeli woman uses her iPhone in front of the building housing the Israeli NSO group, on August 28, 2016, in Herzliya, near Tel Aviv.

Jack Guez | AFP | Getty Images

Private Israeli spy software was used to hack dozens of smartphones that belonged to reporters, human rights activists, business executives and the fiancee of murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, according to a sweeping investigation by the Washington Post and 16 other news organizations.

The military-grade spyware was reportedly licensed by the Israeli spyware firm NSO Group. The investigation discovered that the hacked phones were on a list of more than 50,000 numbers based in countries known to surveil people.

The list of numbers were shared with the Post and other media organizations by Paris-based journalism nonprofit Hidden Stories and human rights group Amnesty International.

NSO Group denied the findings of the report in several statements, arguing that investigation includes “uncorroborated theories” based on “misleading interpretation of leaked data from accessible and overt basic information.”

NSO Group also said it would continue to investigate all credible claims of misuse and take appropriate action.

NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware is licensed to governments around the world and can hack a mobile phone’s data and activate the microphone, according to the report. NSO said the spyware is only used to surveil terrorists and other criminals.

Read the full report here.

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