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HIDE AND SEEK: Tracking NSO Group’s Pegasus Spyware to Operations in 45 Countries

Key Details

  • Region
    International
  • Themes
    Surveillance

This report was originally published by Citizen Lab and is republished here with permission and thanks.

In this post, we develop new Internet scanning techniques to identify 45 countries in which operators of NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware may be conducting operations.

Key Findings

  • Between August 2016 and August 2018, we scanned the Internet for servers associated with NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware. We found 1,091 IP addresses that matched our fingerprint and 1,014 domain names that pointed to them. We developed and used Athena, a novel technique to cluster some of our matches into 36 distinct Pegasus systems, each one appears to be run by a separate operator.
  • We designed and conducted a global DNS Cache Probing study on the matching domain names in order to identify in which country each operator was spying. Our technique identified a total of 45 countries where Pegasus operators may be conducting surveillance operations. At least 10 Pegasus operators appear to be actively engaged in cross-border surveillance.
  • Our findings paint a bleak picture of the human rights risks of NSO’s global proliferation. At least six countries with significant Pegasus operations have previously been linked to abusive use of spyware to target civil society, including Bahrain, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
  • Pegasus also appears to be in use by countries with dubious human rights records and histories of abusive behaviour by state security services. In addition, we have found indications of possible political themes within targeting materials in several countries, casting doubt on whether the technology is being used as part of “legitimate” criminal investigations.

 

The full report

Authors

Ron Deibert

Director, The Citizen Lab

Bill Marczak

Senior Research Fellow, Citizen Lab

Sarah McKune

Senior Researcher, The Citizen Lab

John Scott-Railton

Senior Researcher, The Citizen Lab

Bahr Abdul Razzak

Researcher, The Citizen Lab

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