The Pegasus Project Turns the Spotlight on Israeli Spyware Firm NSO Group

Over 50,000 phones infected and people targeted in 24 countries. Are you one of them?

NSO Group says it only sells spyware to vetted government bodies

Back in 2017, few would have disputed that Israel and Saudi Arabia were regional foes. Officially, the countries had no diplomatic ties. Yet for a small group of Israeli business people attending secret meetings with Saudi officials in Vienna, Cyprus and Riyadh that summer, there were signs relations were warming. The business people represented NSO Group. Their mission was to sell the Saudis NSO’s weapons–grade spyware system: “Pegasus”.

NSO Group had been given explicit permission by the Israeli government to try to sell the homegrown hacking tools to the Saudis. It was a classified arrangement and resulted in the sale later being sealed in Riyadh in a deal reportedly worth at least $55m. But revelations about how repressive states such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Azerbaijan and others have used NSO’s technology to target human rights lawyers, activists and journalists raise questions for Israel and have put the issue under fresh scrutiny.

Human rights activists, journalists and lawyers across the world have been targeted by authoritarian governments using hacking software sold by the Israeli surveillance company NSO Group, according to an investigation into a massive data leak. The investigation by 17 media organizations suggests widespread and continuing abuse of NSO’s hacking spyware, Pegasus, which the NSO Group insists is only intended for use against criminals and terrorists.

Pegasus is a malware that infects iPhones and Android devices to enable operators of the tool to extract messages, photos and emails, record calls and secretly activate microphones.