Indian journalists targeted by Pegasus Spyware, says new Amnesty, Washington Post report

Amnesty International, in collaboration with The Washington Post, has brought to light alarming revelations regarding the persistent use of NSO Group’s notorious Pegasus spyware to target high-profile journalists in India, mostly targeting ones that have been vocal against the current government. This latest investigative report identifies Siddharth Varadarajan, the Founding Editor of The Wire, and Anand Mangnale, the South Asia Editor at The Organised Crime and Corruption Report Project (OCCRP), as among the recent victims of Pegasus spyware attacks on their iPhones, with the most recent incident occurring in October 2023.

The deployment of Pegasus, an invasive spyware developed by Israeli surveillance firm NSO Group, unfolds against the backdrop of recent warning that Apple had sent out to several opposition leaders and journalists, about possible state sponsored attacks on their devices.

Donncha Ó Cearbhaill, Head of Amnesty International’s Security Lab, emphasises the broader context, stating, “Our latest findings show that increasingly, journalists in India face the threat of unlawful surveillance simply for doing their jobs, alongside other tools of repression, including imprisonment under draconian laws, smear campaigns, harassment, and intimidation.”

Amnesty International’s Security Lab conducted forensic analyses that revealed traces of Pegasus spyware activity on the devices of the targeted journalists. The investigation, triggered by Apple’s global threat notifications in October 2023, disclosed that more than 20 journalists and opposition politicians in India received these notifications. The Security Lab’s analysis of devices, including those of Varadarajan and Mangnale, confirmed the presence of Pegasus spyware.

Anand Mangnale’s device exhibited evidence of a zero-click exploit, a method allowing the surreptitious installation of Pegasus spyware without any user action, on August 23, 2023. The exploit coincided with Mangnale’s investigative work on an alleged stock manipulation case involving a major multinational conglomerate in India. While it remains uncertain if the exploit was successful, its occurrence underscores the serious implications for journalists conducting vital investigative work.


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