50,000 VIPs ‘including Jamal Khashoggi’s wife’ were targeted by cyber hackers for rogue regimes
- Jamal Khashoggi’s wife was targeted with phone hacking software
- Hanan Elatr’s phone number was found on a leaked list of more than 50,000
- They are said to have been identified as potential targets for governments using military-grade spyware
Yesterday it was alleged that the wife of murdered dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi was the target of phone hacking software sold to repressive governments.
Hanan Elatr’s phone number was found on a leaked list of more than 50,000 people allegedly identified as potential targets for governments using military-grade spyware.
The list is said to include presidents, prime ministers, human rights activists, business leaders and journalists, including the editor of the Financial Times.
The Guardian reported that the data breach points to “widespread and ongoing abuse” of spyware. Khashoggi, 59, who was highly critical of Saudi Arabia’s royal family, was killed after he walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018. It was alleged that he was killed by an assassination squad and dismembered in the building.
His Egyptian wife, 52, was reportedly among those whose phones were targeted. A United Nations investigation concluded that Saudi Arabia was responsible for his death and there was “credible evidence” to justify an investigation into Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his top officials.
Hanan Elatr’s, murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s wife, phone number was found on a leaked list of more than 50,000 allegedly identified as potential targets for governments using the military spyware
Israeli surveillance firm NSO Group, which includes ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair’s lawyer Cherie, has repeatedly denied that its Pegasus software was used by Saudi officials to attack Mr Khashoggi. The spyware is intended for states to use against criminals and terrorists, but is said to have phone numbers of political, business and religious leaders and more than 180 journalists on the list.
Among them was Beirut-born Financial Times editor Roula Khalaf.
The Pegasus spyware can infect phones if a target clicks on a malicious link, which can be disguised in a text message from a contact. If the phone is infected, all information on it will be accessible, including messages, emails, photos, and chats on apps like WhatsApp, Telegram, and Signal.
The phone’s microphone and camera can also be turned on to spy on the targets. Forensic analysis of a small number of phones whose numbers were on the leaked list showed that more than half reportedly had traces of the Pegasus spyware. Indian news website The Wire reported that an analysis of a phone belonging to Khashoggi’s wife found malicious links being sent to it in 2017 and early 2018, disguised in text messages purportedly from her sister. Investigators were unable to determine whether her phone was successfully infected.
The Pegasus spyware can infect phones if a target clicks on a malicious link, which can be disguised in a text message from a contact (file photo)
Amnesty International and the Paris-based media organization Forbidden Stories gained access to the leaked list of phone numbers and shared access with media partners including The Guardian and The Wire. The outlets are expected to name other possible victims of the software in the coming week. The Guardian said analysis suggested at least ten governments had entered names on the list.
It reported that Mexico, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates had entered the most numbers. Hungary was also mentioned, along with Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Rwanda and India. NSO sells its software to military, law enforcement and intelligence agencies in 40 countries.
Morocco, Hungary, Rwanda and India denied using Pegasus to hack phones. Saudi Arabia, Mexico, the UAE, Azerbaijan, Bahrain and Kazakhstan did not comment. Amnesty’s Agnes Callamard said: “The NSO’s spyware is the weapon of choice for repressive governments seeking to silence journalists, attack activists and crush dissent, endangering countless lives.”
The NSO reported last month that Ms. Blair is an “external adviser,” but how much she or her law firm Omnia Strategy has paid has not been disclosed.