Israeli NSO Spyware Targeted Reporters, Activists in El Salvador

Israeli NSO Spyware Targeted Reporters, Activists in El Salvador

Published January 13th, 2022 – 11:17 GMT

The blacklisted Israeli spyware developer, NSO Group, is once again under the microscope after its Pegasus malware was found on 37 devices belonging to 35 journalists and activists in El Salvador. 

In a joint statement published on Wednesday, digital rights organizations Access Now, Amnesty International and Citizen Lab revealed that the people targeted included employees of media groups El Faro and Gato Encerrado, in addition to employees of regional human rights and pro-democracy organizations, such as Cristosal and Fundación Democracia, Transparencia y Justicia.

According to Access Now, many of the people who were targeted work with organizations that have encountered persecution from El Salvador’s government. However, it is still unknown who was behind the hacking of the phones of journalists and activists.

According to the research, the people whose phones were infected with Pegasus malware were targeted between July 2020 and November 2021. 

Access Now and many other rights groups are demanding the United Nations to investigate alleged human rights violations enabled by NSO’s Pegasus spyware.

Although NSO group didn’t comment yet on the latest allegations, a spokesperson from the company told Bloomberg that the company provides its technology “only to vetted and legitimate intelligence agencies as well as to law enforcement agencies, who use these systems under warrants by the local judicial system to fight criminals, terrorists and corruption.”

“NSO’s firm stance on these issues is that the use of cyber tools in order to monitor dissidents, activists and journalists is a severe misuse of any technology and goes against the desired use of such critical tools,” the spokesperson added.

Defending itself, NSO Group has claimed that its technology and products are used to track down terrorists and criminals. However, human rights groups and researchers do not agree with this narrative and have previously accused the company of providing its spyware to entities that have used it to target dissidents and government critics from countries including Rwanda, Togo, Spain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Morocco and India.

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