New Delhi: NSO Group said the reports published in this matter have no factual basis, and the company is considering a defamation lawsuit.
Amid the reports of possible hacking of phones of several Indian journalists and activists through 'Pegasus spyware', Israel-based NSO Group on Monday said the allegations on it are false and misleading.
"The report by Forbidden Stories is full of wrong assumptions and uncorroborated theories that raise serious doubts about the reliability and interests of the sources. It seems like the unidentified sources have supplied information that has no factual basis and are far from reality," reads the statement.
NSO Group said the reports published in this matter have no factual basis, and the company is considering a defamation lawsuit.
"After checking their claims, we firmly deny the false allegations made in their report. Their sources have supplied them with information that has no factual basis, as evident by the lack of supporting documentation for many of their claims. In fact, these allegations are so outrageous and far from reality, that NSO is considering a defamation lawsuit," the company said.
The statement mentions that NSO Group has a good reason to believe the claims that are made by the unnamed sources to Forbidden Stories are based on a misleading interpretation of data from accessible and overt basic information, such as HLR Lookup services, which have no bearing on the list of the customers' targets of Pegasus or any other NSO products.
The company believes such services are openly available to anyone, anywhere, and anytime and are commonly used by governmental agencies for numerous purposes and private companies worldwide.
"The claims that the data was leaked from our servers, is a complete lie and ridiculous, since such data never existed on any of our servers. As NSO has previously stated, our technology was not associated in any way with the heinous murder of Jamal Khashoggi. We can confirm that our technology was not used to listen, monitor, track, or collect information regarding him or his family members mentioned in the inquiry. We previously investigated this claim, which again, is being made without validation," emphasized the NSO group.
"We would like to emphasize that NSO sells its technologies solely to law enforcement and intelligence agencies of vetted governments for the sole purpose of saving lives through preventing crime and terror acts. NSO does not operate the system and has no visibility to the data," said the statement.
NSO Group said its technologies are being used every day to break up pedophilia rings, sex and drug-trafficking rings, locate missing and kidnapped children, locate survivors trapped under collapsed buildings, and protect airspace against disruptive penetration by dangerous drones.
The development comes after the names of over 40 Indian journalists appeared on the leaked list of potential targets for surveillance by an unidentified agency using Pegasus spyware, according to a report published in The Wire.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Electronics and Information and Technology refuted the reports of surveillance of journalists.
"The allegations regarding government surveillance on specific people has no concrete basis or truth associated with it whatsoever. In the past, similar claims were made regarding the use of Pegasus on WhatsApp by the Indian State. Those reports also had no factual basis and were categorically denied by all parties, including WhatsApp in the Indian Supreme Court," the Ministry of Electronics and Information and Technology said in its response.
"This news report, thus, also appears to be a similar fishing expedition, based on conjectures and exaggerations to malign the Indian democracy and its institutions," the Ministry added.
The spyware 'Pegasus' is developed by Israel-based NSO Group. The company specialises in hacking devices and caters to various governments of the world for spying purposes.
Forensic tests have also confirmed that the phones of some of these journalists were successfully infected with the Pegasus malware, the report said.
According to the report, the journalists who were targeted work for some news organisations in the country, including Hindustan Times, The Hindu, India Today, Indian Express and Network18. Many of them cover matters related to Defence, Home Ministry, Election Commission and Kashmir, among others.
The Wire said the phones of its founder-editors Siddharth Varadarajan and MK Venu were also targeted with Pegasus spyware.
Some prominent journalists whose names are mentioned in the leaked list include Shishir Gupta, Prashant Jha, Rahul Singh, Sandeep Unnithan, Manoj Gupta, Vijaita Singh and J Gopikrishnan, the report said.
According to The Wire, the leaked list was first accessed by France-based Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International and later shared with The Wire and 15 other news organisations worldwide as part of a collaborative investigation named the 'Pegasus Project'.
Notably, the presence of a phone number in the list alone does not reveal whether a device was infected with Pegasus or subject to an attempted hack. But the Pegasus Project suggests potential targets for surveillance attempts.
Independent digital forensic analysis conducted on 10 Indian phones whose numbers were present in the data showed signs of either an attempted or successful Pegasus hack, reported The Wire.
In November 2019, messaging app, WhatsApp had revealed that journalists and activists in India have been the target of surveillance by operators using the Israeli spyware Pegasus.
The then Electronics and Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad informed the Parliament that Pegasus spyware was developed by an Israel-based company NSO Group to reach mobile phones of 1,400 users globally, including 121 users from India.
The spyware first made global headlines in 2016 when an Arab activist reported a mysterious message on his phone.