Phone numbers of over 40 Indian journalists have been found on a leaked list of possible targets for hacking by using Israeli spyware 'Pegasus'. According to The Wire, forensic tests confirmed the presence of Pegasus spyware on some devices.
Journalists across large media houses like the Hindustan Times, The Hindu, The Wire, The Indian Express, News18, India Today, Pioneer, and freelancers, columnists, and regional media persons were included on the leaked list of potential targets.
The presence of a phone number in the data alone does not reveal whether a device was infected with Pegasus or subject to an attempted hack. However, the Pegasus Project, a consortium of international news organisations, believes the data is indicative of potential targets identified in advance of possible surveillance attempts.
Prominent Journalists In The List
Two founding editors of The Wire, its diplomatic editor, two of its regular contributors, including Rohini Singh's numbers reportedly appeared on the list. Rohini Singh's number features after her reportage on Amit Shah's son, Jay Shah, and Nikhil Merchant, a businessman who is close to Narendra Modi, and while she was investigating the dealings of a prominent minister, Piyush Goyal, with businessman Ajay Piramal, The Wire reported.
Former Indian Express journalist Sushant Singh's contact appears on the list in mid-2018. At that point, he was working on an investigation into the controversial Rafale aircraft deal with France. Signs of Pegasus infection were found on his recent phone earlier this year, after conducting digital forensics.
The Wire said the list of journalists to emerge from the Pegasus Project's reporting could not be considered an exhaustive list or even a representative sample of reporters subject to official snooping as it is limited to an analysis of one leaked dataset over a limited period and covering only one potential vector of surveillance, i.e. Pegasus.
Analysis of the data showed that most of the names were targeted between 2018 and 2019. Meanwhile, a majority of those appearing on the list work with prominent organisations and are based out of New Delhi.
NSO Group Denies Allegations
Meanwhile, the Israeli company, NSO Group, which sells Pegasus, denied the allegations and claimed that it only offers its spyware to "vetted governments" and said it was "considering a defamation lawsuit", reported NDTV. The Indian government, however, has denied its involvement in the hacking.