Indian Journalists on Target List for Pegasus Spyware Are Furious at Their Own Government – and Israel

Indian investigative journalist Swati Chaturvedi has faced harassment and threats for her reporting on the government and party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. So she wasn’t surprised to learn this week that her phone number was included in a list of 40 numbers belonging to Indian journalists who were selected as potential targets for clients of Pegasus spyware sold by the NSO Group. Not surprised – but still angry.

“I’ve never been attacked in this awful, feral way,” she said. Her anger isn’t directed only at the Indian government, which is the immediate suspect behind the operation, but also at Israel, the country from which NSO operates.

“It’s utterly shameful of the Israeli government,” she said. “Maybe it’s just business as usual for them, but when you sell military-grade spyware to someone as paranoid and arrogant as the Modi government, you weaponize our phones against us.”

Israel on Wednesday appointed an interministerial team to assess the reports published this week, following a joint investigation by 17 media organizations called the Pegasus Project, which said NSO’s software had been used against journalists, government officials and human rights activists in countries around the world.

Read more >> The Israeli cyber weapon used against 180 journalists ■ Khashoggi’s fiancee, son targeted by NSO tech, investigation reveals ■ How NSO's Pegasus is used to spy on journalists ■ Analysis: How Israeli spy-tech became dictators' weapon of choice ■ India’s Gandhi and Pakistan’s Khan tapped as targets in Israeli NSO spyware scandal  ■ Israel's cyber-spy industry helps dictators hunt dissidents and gays ■ Amnesty ‘stands by findings,’ rejects NSO's claims ■ Israel's NSO and Pegasus Are a Danger to Democracy Around the World

More than 180 reporters and editors from different countries have been identified on the leaked list of potential targets for NSO, and Indian journalists were among the most represented. Digital forensics conducted by Amnesty International’s Security Lab found that at least five of the phones were compromised by Pegasus spyware.

The leaked list was shared with the 17 news outlets by Paris-based journalism nonprofit Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International. NSO has rejected the reporting by the media partners as “full of wrong assumptions and uncorroborated theories.” They later said the list had “nothing to do with them,” and said the leak was tantamount to “randomly picking numbers from the phonebook.”