NSO spyware Pegasus found on smartphones of French journalists

Sicherheit (Pexels, allgemeine Nutzung)[German]The French national security agency Anssi confirmed that the Pegasus spy program of the Israeli NSO group was found on journalists' smartphones. This is the first time that the findings of the Pegasus project have been confirmed by an independent and official authority.


Review: The Pegasus NSO Case

NSO Group Technologies  is an Israeli technology company that offers the Pegasus spyware, which enables remote monitoring of smartphones (Android, iOS, etc.). The Trojan can be installed on the devices unnoticed within seconds to monitor phone calls, SMS, emails and even encrypted chats, as well as access the microphone and camera.

According to the NSO Group, however, the Trojan is only used by "government agencies" to avert danger (terrorism, crime). In mid-July 2021, it became public that the Pegasus surveillance software (Trojan) of the Israeli NSO Group is widely used on smartphones and was also found on phones of European government officials and journalists. A list containing 50,000 phone numbers of at least ten NSO Group customers, entries from 2016 to 2021, had come into the hands of Amnesty International and Forbidden Stories, a Paris-based media non-profit organization.

Research by an international consortium of journalists suggests that hundreds of journalists, human rights activists, lawyers and politicians were spied on by the Pegasus spyware through their smartphones. NSO Group denied that the list revealed anything about spied targets and even threatened legal action against the above organizations for reporting. I had reported about the facts in the blog post NSO Group's Pegasus spyware on many smartphones.

Pegasus on journalists' smartphones

Meanwhile, the story is gaining some momentum. A few days ago, there were press reports that NSO Group was blocking some states from using Pegasus. Now The Guardian reports – see also the following tweet – that French intelligence (specifically, it was probably specialists from the national security agency Anssi) found the Israeli NSO Group's Pegasus spy program on journalists' smartphones.

Pegasus auf Smartphones


According to The Guardian article, French intelligence investigators have confirmed that Pegasus spy software was found on the phones of three journalists, including a senior executive at the international television channel France 24. France's national agency for the security of information systems (Anssi, Agence nationale de la sécurité des systèmes d'information) found digital traces of NSO Group's hacking spyware on the TV journalist's phone and forwarded its findings to the Paris prosecutor's office, which is leading the investigation into possible hacking.

Anssi also found Pegasus on the phones of Lénaïg Bredoux, an investigative journalist for the French investigative website Mediapart, and the website's director, Edwy Plenel. Employees of the France 24 broadcaster must have been extremely shocked when the spyware was discovered on the smartphone. An unnamed source from the broadcaster is quoted thus:

We are stunned and angry that journalists could be the target of espionage. We are not going to take this lying down. We will take legal action.

Le Monde newspaper reported that the Paris-based journalist had been selected by France 24 to be "occasionally monitored." The specialists discovered that the Peagsus spy software had become active on the journalist's phone three times: in May 2019, September 2020 and January 2021, investigative journalist Bredoux told the Guardian:

This puts an end to the idea that these are lies and fake news. This is the proof we need.

French politicians expressed shock after the cell phone numbers of President Emmanuel Macron, former Prime Minister Édouard Philippe and 14 sitting ministers, including those of justice and foreign affairs, appeared in the leaked data. Research by the Pegasus Project suggests that Morocco was the country of interest for Macron and his high-ranking team. This raised concerns that these phones were selected by one of France's close diplomatic allies for surveillance by the Pegasus Trojan.

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