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WION investigates: Unearthing the NSO controversy

NSO was founded in 2010. Photograph:( AFP )

WION Web Team New Delhi, India Nov 06, 2019, 11.29 AM (IST)

Spyware Pegasus and Israeli firm NSO are making headlines. Facebook has taken NSO to court for hacking into the phones of thousands of people across the globe through WhatsApp. As the row continues to simmer, WION gets the exclusive details.

WION's West Asia bureau chief Daniele Pagani tracked down the NSO headquarters which had moved out of its original building to an undisclosed building complex.

As part of our investigation, WION has also accessed the full 140-page report filed by WhatsApp in the US court. The report gives details about NSO's dealings with governments across the world. What kind of services does NSO offer? What can its super-weapon "the Pegasus" really do?

WION also has access to the agreement that the NSO had signed with a company in Ghana. It has a list of all that these hackers can do. The contract was to monitor 25 phones.

And this isn't just about hacking WhatsApp. The NSO contract says it can monitor virtually any popular smartphone app.  

Exposed!

In today's world, our lives revolve around our smartphones. It has all our details - from our pictures to access to our bank account. Israel's NSO group has built the most powerful spying tool of this century called Pegasus.

For the first time, WhatsApp's lawsuit has revealed the extent to which Pegasus can spy a person.

As part of WhatsApp's court filings, a secret agreement between the NSO and a company in Ghana is now public. The agreement was signed in the year 2015 between the NSO group and Infraloks development limited.

Reports claim Infraloks was a front for the government of Ghana. The deal was worth $8 million and required the monitoring of 25 phones.

NSO's spying tools

The NSO group had offered an entire suite of services. Its tools can hack all major smartphone softwares from iOS, Android or Blackberry. It can read and record virtually anything on a smartphone. It can even extract contact details, messages, emails and the entire call log along with communication done over WhatsApp, Skype or on any of the instant messaging applications.

Tools from the NSO can even record calls and use the phone's camera to capture you. The software even knows how to switch off the phone's flash.

What comes as a shock is that the NSO built exclusion clauses for the citizens of America and Israel.

The NSO group has its headquarters in Israel. It used an American company called Westbridge Technologies Inc. to drum up business in the United States.

And this was just one business. Citizen Lab - part of the University of Toronto in Canada - says there are 36 likely operators of Pegasus across at least 45 countries.

The NSO has refused to reveal the full list of governments it deals with and maintains that it only sells its software to governments. There exists no regulation or legal oversight over this new age surveillance.

The Amnesty International has filed a lawsuit to get the NSO's licence revoked. WION had spoken to Gil Naveh, communications unit head at the Amnesty International who had talked about the specifics of the case and the foundation of the lawsuit.

Story highlights

WION has access to the agreement that the NSO had signed with a company in Ghana. It has a list of all that these hackers can do.