“The phone numbers of over 40 Indian journalists appear on a leaked list of potential targets for surveillance, and forensic tests have confirmed that some of them were successfully snooped upon by an unidentified agency using Pegasus spyware,” the Wire confirmed

According to the Wire, the leaked data includes numbers of top journalists at Hindustan Times, India Today, Network18, The Hindu and Indian Express.

“The presence of a phone number in the data does alone not reveal whether a device was infected with Pegasus or subject to an attempted hack. However, the Pegasus Project that analysed this list believes the data is indicative of potential targets identified in advance of possible surveillance attempts,” the Wire report added. 

The Wire, The Guardian and several other mediahouses have confirmed that human rights activists, journalists, lawyers, politicians and other dignitaries across the world were targeted by authoritarian governments using hacking software sold by NSO, the Israeli surveillance company NSO Group, according to an investigation.

Also Read: Phones of Indian leaders, journos & judges tapped by Israeli-firm?

The reports show round-the-clock surveillance through Pegasus, a malware which enables operators of the tool to extract messages, photos and emails, record calls and even activate microphones without the knowledge of the user.

According to the Guardian, the leak contains a list of more than 50,000 phone numbers that, it is believed, have been identified as those of people of interest by clients of NSO since 2016.

Forensic tests conducted as part of this project on a small cross-section of phones associated with these numbers revealed clear signs of targeting by Pegasus spyware in 37 phones, of which 10 are Indian. Without subjecting a phone to this technical analysis, it is not possible to conclusively state whether it witnessed an attack attempt or was successfully compromised,” The Wire added.

“The list also contains the numbers of close family members of one country’s ruler, suggesting the ruler may have instructed their intelligence agencies to explore the possibility of monitoring their own relatives,” the Guardian said.

“NSO Group, the Israeli company which sells Pegasus worldwide, says its clients are confined to “vetted governments”, believed to number 36. Though it refuses to identify its customers, this claim rules out the possibility that any private entity in India or abroad is responsible for the infections which The Wire and its partners have confirmed,” another report on The Wire added. 

Working with the technical lab of Amnesty International, over 80 journalists coordinated by Forbidden Stories identified and verified individuals to whom these numbers belong. They then conducted a forensic examination of the phones in use by them for the period covered by the data. 

Both The Wire and The Guardian have said they would reveal the names it has been able to verify under different categories, in a step by step fashion with its partners over the next few days. “They include hundreds of business executives, religious figures, academics, NGO employees, union officials and government officials, including cabinet ministers, presidents and prime ministers,” the Guardian report added. 

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