For the first time, researchers have mapped all known targets, including journalists, activists and human rights defenders, whose phones were hacked by spyware Pegasus, created by the NSO group. Forensic Architecture, the academic unit of Goldsmiths at the University of London, which investigates human rights violations, has searched dozens of human rights group reports, conducted open source research and interviewed dozens of victims to reveal more than a thousand data points, including devices, which shows the relationship and patterns between digital surveillance conducted by NSO’s government clients and real-world intimidation, harassment and violence to victims as well.
By mapping these data points to a bespoke platform, researchers can show how countries use Pegasus to spy on their victims, often targeting other victims in their networks and engaging against attacks, arrests and dissemination propaganda. Goals but their family, friends and colleagues, although the thousand-plus data points represent only a fraction of the overall use of Pegasus by the government, the project aims to provide the tools and data of NSO activities around the world to researchers and investigators, which goes far enough to keep spyware makers away from the public eye.
The Israel-based NSO group has developed a spyware called Pegasus that allows its government customers uninterrupted access to a victim’s device, including their personal data and their location.
The NSO has repeatedly refused to name its clients, but the government has signed agreements with at least 45 countries, including Rwanda, Israel, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Mexico and the United Arab Emirates – all of which have been accused of human rights abuses – as well as Western countries like Spain. Shourideh Molvi, in-charge of forensic architecture, said the new findings “have become a new frontier of human rights violations to the extent that we live in the digital domain, a site of state surveillance and intimidation that enables physical violations in real places.”
The platform presents a visual timeline of how both spyware and physical violence have been targeted as part of an official campaign to target their most outspoken critics.