New York Times journalist Ben Hubbard has been hacked twice with the spyware Pegasus from the NSO Group.
That was reported by a CitizenLab report that the hacks took place between 2018 and 2021 when the journalist was writing a book about Saudi Arabia and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Pegasus and the case of the hacked New York Times journalist
Specifically, the attacks allegedly occurred after Hubbard published an article in the New York Times in which he revealed an attempted attack on his iPhone by an NSO Group client connected to Saudi Arabia.
CitizenLab reveals that undoubtedly the attacks on Hubbard were conducted thanks to NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware, but they also state that they are unable at this time to definitively attribute these attacks to a specific NSO Group client connected to Saudi Arabia. However, they believe the same hacker is also responsible for another attack aimed at a Saudi activist.
The problem is that NSO Group has been using zero-click iPhone exploits since 2017, and in 2019 WhatsApp announced that the group was exploiting the app’s video calling feature to conduct attacks on Android as well.
These were complex and sophisticated attacks, which allowed NSO Group to use Pegasus spyware to repeatedly attack the reporter with a kind of “targeted hacking.” Furthermore, the 2020 attack after Hubbard’s published article suggests that it was because of the publication of that piece that the hacker group targeted the journalist.
The absurd thing is that publicly NSO Group claims to be concerned about the respect of human rights, but according to CitizenLab, the company is not taking effective measures to prevent such targeted uses of its spyware in full violation of the rights and privacy of the victims.
Journalists under attack
In fact, this hack would be added to a long list of documented cases of other journalists who have been targeted or hacked using the same Pegasus spyware. That would be 36 journalists, producers, anchors, and executives from Al Jazeera, plus one journalist from Al Araby TV, whose phones were reportedly hacked using this spyware.
Amnesty International’s Security Lab added freelance journalist Sevinc Vaqifqizi of Meydan TV to this list and Siddharth Varadarajan and MK Venu, co-founders of India’s the Wire.
“The extensive and routine abuse of Pegasus spyware to hack journalists is a direct threat to press freedom worldwide, and is contributing to a growing chilling climate for investigative journalism.”
He adds that until measures are taken to rein in the spyware market, repressive governments will continue to exploit it to try to thwart independent journalism that investigates them.