The consortium did not disclose how the list was obtained, and it is unclear whether the list was ambitious or whether people were actually targeted by NSO spyware.
Among those listed was Azam Ahmed, who has been Mexico City bureau chief for The Times and has reported extensively on corruption, violence and surveillance in Latin America, including the NSO; And Ben Hubbard, the Times bureau chief in Beirut, Lebanon, who has investigated abuse of power and corruption in Saudi Arabia and has written a recent biography of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
It also included the heads of 14 states, including French President Emmanuel Macron, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Medbouli, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, Saad-ud-Din al-Othmani, who until recently were prime ministers of Morocco, and Europe. .
Shalev Hulio, co-founder of NSO Group, denied the accuracy of the list, telling the Times: “It’s like opening a white page, picking 50,000 numbers and drawing conclusions from them.”
The so-called Zero Days this year is a record for the detection of errors in the secret software used by the NSO to install its spyware. This year, Chinese hackers were caught using the Zero Days at Microsoft Exchange to steal emails and plant ransomware. In July, ransomware criminals brought down a network of about 1,000 companies using Zero Day in software sold by tech company Casey.
For years, the spyware industry has been a black box. The sale of spyware is enclosed in nondisclosure agreements and is often limited to classified applications, if any, rolled with supervision.
NSO clients had previously infected their targets using text messages that responded to victims clicking on links. Those links made it possible for journalists and researchers at organizations such as Citizen Labs to investigate the possible presence of spyware. But NSO’s new zero-click method makes it more difficult for journalists and cybersecurity researchers to detect spyware.