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Frightening Big Brother Software That Led To Journalist’s Death

Edward Snowden told listeners via video conference that Khashoggi was tracked via a software program called Pegasus.

The investigation of the alleged murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi continues as new information has emerged that the kingdom was believed to have used Israeli-made spyware to track the columnist and eventually butcher him.

Former contractor of the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) Edward Snowden said that software created by an Israel cybersecurity firm was used to track the whereabouts of the 59-year-old columnist.

As Turkish news agency Anadolu reported Thursday in a conference in Tel Aviv, Snowden, who infamously leaked NSA classified documents in 2013, alleged that the spy device known as the Pegasus Spyware was sold to the Saudi administration through NSO Group Technologies. The tool was used to track opponents.

“The Saudis, of course, knew that Khashoggi was going to go to the consulate, as he got an appointment. But how did they know his intention and plans?” Snowden said.

Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, was murdered on October 2 after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The Istanbul Prosecutor Office stated that the journalist was choked and then mutilated while he was inside the building. Saudi Arabia has yet to reveal where the body of Khashoggi is.

Snowden added that a smartphone of one of Khashoggi’s friends who lives in exile in Canada had been infected by the Pegasus Software. He said that the tool enables Saudi Arabia to gather information about Khashoggi.

A report released by a Canada-based research agency, Citizen Lab, mentioned that the cell phone of Omar Abdulaziz, a Saudi activist who is already a permanent resident of Canada, had been targeted by the most powerful Pegasus Spyware.

“We have high confidence that the cellphone of Omar Abdulaziz, a Saudi activist and Canadian permanent resident, was targeted and infected with NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware,” the report said.

What can Pegasus Spyware do?

The Pegasus Software enables unlimited monitoring in cell phones. The tool is a spy device commonly used by a country’s institutions to track certain people, for national security or political purposes.

According to information from Lookout, a security intelligence firm, the Pegasus spyware installed on Android has several advanced features that can steal messages and calls from Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp, and can control a smartphone’s camera and microphones and take screenshots from its screen.

The Pegasus Spyware is abused by countries with gross human rights records

The Pegasus Spyware, which targets iPhone and Android devices, has allegedly spread to 45 countries, according to a group of researchers as reported in Threatpost.

Six out of those 45 countries have used malicious malware in the past to target activists, including Morocco, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, Bahrain and UAE. Previously, The Citizen Lab revealed in Forbes that there were 174 individual infections in iOS and Android phones.

Researchers at the Toronto-based agency scanned the internet in a massive project from 2016 to 2018, sniffing servers related to the Pegasus Spyware.

“The number of Pegasus servers we detected in our scans ballooned from about 200 in 2016 to almost 600 in 2018.  This may be an indication that NSO Group is scaling up their operations,” said Bill Marczak, a senior research fellow at The Citizens Lab and one of the researchers on the team.

NSO Group, the creator of the malware, has snubbed the allegation that the tool was used to target dissidents and activists, saying that the spyware aims to nab drug cartels and terrorists.

“Our products have saved the lives of thousands of people, prevented suicide terror attacks, helped convict drug cartel lords, facilitated complex crime investigations and returned kidnapped children to their parents. These are just a few examples of the critical security support our systems have provided worldwide,” an NSO group spokesperson said in a statement sent to Forbes.

But in 2017, several journalists and lawyers in Mexico, including children, had their devices infected by the Pegasus Spyware in a campaign allegedly carried out by the national government.


Yasmeen Rasidi

Yasmeen is a writer and political science graduate of the National University, Jakarta. She covers a variety of topics for Citizen Truth including the Asia and Pacific region, international conflicts and press freedom issues. Yasmeen had worked for Xinhua Indonesia and GeoStrategist previously. She writes from Jakarta, Indonesia.

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