BOSTON: Amnesty International has said that French President Emmanuel Macron leads a list of 14 current or former heads of state, including Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, who may have been targeted for hacking by clients of the notorious Israeli spyware firm NSO Group.
“The unprecedented revelation … should send a chill down the spine of world leaders,” Amnesty’s secretary general, Agnes Callamard, said in a statement.
Among potential targets found on a list of 50,000 phone numbers leaked to Amnesty and the Paris-based journalism nonprofit Forbidden Stories include Presidents Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa and Barham Salih of Iraq. King Mohammed VI of Morocco and three current prime ministers — Imran Khan of Pakistan, Mustafa Madbouly of Egypt and Saad Eddine El Othmani of Morocco — are also on the list, The Washington Post reported.
The Post said none of the heads of state would offer their smartphones for forensic testing that might have detected whether they were infected by NSO’s military-grade Pegasus spyware. Thirty-seven phones identified in the investigation were either breached or shows signs of attempted infection, it has reported.
The Post and 16 other members of a global media consortium were granted access to the leaked list. Another member, the French daily Le Monde, determined that 15 members of the French government may have been among potential targets with Macron in 2019.
Following first reports by consortium members on Sunday, the Paris prosecutor’s office said it was investigating the suspected widespread use of NSO’s military-grade Pegasus spyware to target journalists, human rights activists and politicians in multiple countries.
Another US company identified by Amnesty as hosting NSO servers was DigitalOcean. When contacted by The Associated Press, DigitalOcean neither confirmed nor denied whether it had identified or cut off such servers.
“All of the infrastructure outlined in the Amnesty report is no longer on DigitalOcean,” it said Tuesday, without elaborating, in an emailed statement.
Le Monde said the phone numbers for Macron and the then-government members were among thousands allegedly selected by NSO clients for potential surveillance. In this case, the client was an unidentified Moroccan security service, according to Le Monde.
Consortium members said they were able to link more than 1,000 numbers in 50 countries on the list with individuals, including more than 600 politicians and government officials and 189 journalists.
Also on the list were phone numbers in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Morocco and Rwanda, the consortium reported.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International decried what it termed “the wholesale lack of regulation” of surveillance software.
“Until this company (NSO) and the industry as a whole can show it is capable of respecting human rights, there must be an immediate moratorium on the export, sale, transfer and use of surveillance technology,” the rights group said.