They never heard it. There was no beep, no sound at all. But in those silent seconds, a digital intruder entered their phones. Their private moments and their professional secrets became instantly accessible. Even their cameras could be activated to snap photos at the will of a faraway attacker.
The perpetrators were most likely their own governments. Their tool used to break in was Pegasus, a cutting-edge spyware product made by the Israeli company NSO Group.
Through Pegasus, corrupt and troubled regimes across the world can gain access to vast troves of personal information on just about anyone they want. The spyware, sold as a crime-fighting tool, is already known to have been used against journalists, activists, and political dissidents.
But NSO Group is so secretive, and its product is so stealthy, that it’s been nearly impossible to understand the scope of its use. So when a group of journalists gained access to a list of 50,000 phone numbers that had allegedly been picked as targets of the spyware, we sprang into action.
Working with new data from the journalism nonprofit Forbidden Stories and human rights group Amnesty International, OCCRP and 16 media partners around the world worked to uncover who might have fallen victim to Pegasus, and tell their stories.
The Pegasus Project is a collaborative investigation into NSO Group, an Israeli “cyber intelligence” company that sells sophisticated spyware to governments around the world. It was coordinated by Forbidden Stories, a French nonprofit that focuses on telling the stories of journalists under threat. Amnesty International’s Security Lab provided technical support.
Contributors from OCCRP
Reporting and editing: Aubrey Belford, Kelly Bloss, Pavla Holcova, Khadija Ismayilova, Pete Jones, Olena LaFoy, Ilya Lozovsky, Miranda Patrucic, Paul Radu, Lilia Saul, Drew Sullivan, Jonny Wrate
Fact-Checking: Olena LaFoy
Illustration: Svetlana Tiourina
Promotion: Charles Turner
Web and Interactive: Kirk Jackson, Mark Nightingale, Aurélien Sesmat
Aristegui Noticias (Mexico)
Die Zeit (Germany)
The Guardian (U.K.)
Le Monde (France)
Le Soir (France)
PBS Frontline (U.S.)
Radio France (France)
Süddeutsche Zeitung (Germany)
The Washington Post (U.S.)
The Wire (India)