The phone numbers of 40 Indian journalists appeared in a leaked list of “potential targets for surveillance,” with some apparently successfully snooped on using spy software developed by Israeli firm NSO Group, according to a Sunday news report.
The leaked data includes the numbers of journalists working with top Indian media organs, according to the Indian news website The Wire, which reported the surveillance was done by an “unidentified agency” using NSO’s Pegasus spyware.
Pegasus is the spyware that is developed, marketed and licensed to governments around the world by the Israeli company NSO Group. The hacking software can infect billions of phones no matter iOS or Android ones.
“Independent digital forensic analysis conducted on 10 Indian phones whose numbers were present in the data showed signs of either an attempted or successful Pegasus hack,” said the report.
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The website was among a consortium of news outlets which reported the story on Sunday. The leaked records were initially accessed by Paris-based Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International and were then shared with news outlets.
“I wasn’t aware that my phone is being watched. I had my phone forensically analyzed by The Wire team,” said Indian journalist Vijaita Singh, one of the reported victims.
“They have found traces of hacks being attempted on my phone.”
British daily The Guardian reported the editor of The Financial Times is one of more than 180 editors, investigative reporters, and other journalists around the world who were selected as possible candidates for surveillance by government clients of surveillance firm NSO Group.
NSO sells the Pegasus software only to government.. So which government in the world will be interested in Indian activists and journalist?
Well everyone knows that answer..
Phones Of Indian Politicians, Journalists Hacked Using Pegasus – NDTV https://t.co/HvmrStneM6
— Anis Ahmed (Gen. Secretary, PFI) (@AnisPFI) July 18, 2021
There has so far been no official response to the report by the Indian government, but state-run Doordarshan News tweeted the government’s response to inquiries about the reports.
The reports seems to be a “fishing expedition, based on conjectures and exaggerations to malign the Indian democracy and its institutions,” it said in a series of tweets.
The Indian journalists named in the report include Siddharth Varadarajan, a co-founder of The Wire; Sushant Singh, recently of English-language daily The Indian Express; and Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, former editor of the Economic and Political Weekly newspaper.
This is not the first time that Pegasus has come to the fore in India. In 2019, WhatsApp said journalists and human rights activists in India were among the 1,400 users globally whose phones were hacked using the spyware.
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In 2020, a report by Canada’s Citizen Lab said that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) had hacked the phones of dozens of journalists using the same Israeli firm.
Modi’s curb on media
Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, has introduced new rules for the media. According to new rules, online platforms must introduce the post of grievance officer who is responsible for the resolution of the complaints within 15. The complaint reaches the final stop at a government-appointed body that can order platforms to delete or change content.
“They run us down,” said the editor of the Wire, which is fighting the new rules in court. “They call us purveyors of fake news, et cetera. But the fact is that they are threatened by the inability to control the digital media narrative.”
Anadolu with additional input by GVS News Desk