Berlin: An investigation by an international consortium of journalists published Sunday revealed that activists, journalists, politicians, and business executives from around the world were targeted by a military-grade malware from Israel-based NSO Group.
NSO Group's flagship Pegasus spyware had been allegedly abused by its clients, mainly governments, the extent of which was reported by multiple media outlets who collaborated on an investigation into a data leak.
The leaked database contains a list of more than 50,000 phone numbers believed to be those of persons of interest by multiple government clients of NSO since 2016, news reports said.
Paris-based non-profit Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International had initially accessed the list and later shared it with media partners as part of the Pegasus Project, the Guardian newspaper said.
The British paper added that the mention of a phone number did not mean the corresponding phone was infected by Pegasus, or that there was an attempted hack. But the consortium believed the list was indicative of potential targets of NSO clients.
Media outlets participating in the project were able to identify about 1,000 individuals from 50 countries who were potential targets of NSO clients.
They included 85 human rights activists, 189 journalists, at least 65 business executives, and more than 600 politicians and government officials including presidents, prime ministers, and cabinet ministers.
What is Pegasus?
Pegasus is reportedly a highly invasive tool by NSO, the world's most infamous hacker-for-hire outfit. The firm's spyware is used to spy on people through their smartphones.
It works by sending an exploit link to the target user, which if clicked downloads malware or code onto the device without the user's knowledge or permission.