- What if your smartphone could be turned into a spy device that could track your every move, listen to your every conversation, and access your every secret? What if this spyware was sold to governments and other actors who could use it to spy on anyone they wanted? This is not a dystopian fiction, but a reality that is exposed in the book Pegasus: How a Spy in Your Pocket Threatens the End of Privacy, Dignity, and Democracy by Laurent Richard and Sandrine Rigaud.
- If you want to learn more about this astonishing investigation that reveals one of the most sophisticated and invasive cyberweapons ever created, and how it has been used to spy on hundreds of innocent people around the world, then you should read this book. You will be shocked by what you discover, but you will also be informed and empowered by what you learn. Don’t miss this opportunity to get your copy of Pegasus today!
Pegasus (2023) follows the thrilling, worldwide investigation into one of the most powerful and insidious pieces of cyber surveillance software known to date. Beginning with a massive data leak to a small, independent news outlet, it tells the story of how Pegasus came to be, the hundreds of innocent individuals who have had their privacy taken away by it, and the global team of reporters and editors who risked everything to bring the story to light.
Introduction: Follow the journalists who uncovered the truth behind the greatest cyber security threat the world has ever seen.
Table of Contents
- Introduction: Follow the journalists who uncovered the truth behind the greatest cyber security threat the world has ever seen.
- A leaked list set the Pegasus investigation in motion.
- The first steps of the investigation were slow, methodical, and cautious.
- By collecting evidence and collaborating with more journalists, the “Pegasus Project” took form.
- About the author
- Table of Contents
Think about your smartphone. This small device is, in a very real sense, an extension of your own mind. It stores your photos and notes, like your mind stores memories. You use it for your most private and intimate conversations. It stays with you at all times – tracking your location.
You wouldn’t want someone reading your mind, so imagine if someone had complete access to your phone. Reading your messages as you receive them. Scrolling through your pictures. Secretly turning on your camera and microphone, to see and hear everything around you.
This is exactly what a government, organization, or even an individual can do when they infect your phone with Pegasus – the state-of-the-art cybersurveillance software developed and sold by Israeli company NSO.
If this software concerns you, you’re not alone. When details of this flagrant violation of privacy were brought to investigative journalists Laurent Richard and Sandrine Rigaud, it triggered a global and monthslong investigation. Here are the behind-the-scenes details of how that investigation started, and how the small team of journalists went about shining a light on one of the greatest cybersurveillance threats in history.
A leaked list set the Pegasus investigation in motion.
In 2020 a top-secret meeting took place in a small rented apartment in East Berlin. Laurent Richard and Sandrine Rigaud – investigative journalists from the independent French journalism network Forbidden Stories – were asked to turn off their phones, put them in the next room, and close the door.
These precautions might seem dramatic, but the hosts of the meeting – Claudio Guarnieri and Donncha Ó Cearbhaill from Amnesty International’s Security Lab – could take no risks with the data they were about to share.
They had a leaked list. On that list were about 50,000 private phone numbers which they believed had been selected as potential targets for the state-of-the-art cybersurveillance program, Pegasus. Someone wanted access to these phones, and they didn’t want the owners to know.
The existence of this technology wasn’t new information. The for-profit Israeli company which created it – NSO – claims that the software is only licensed to government agencies, for the purpose of fighting crime and terrorism. It’s easy to take down cartel leaders, drug smugglers and pedophiles when you have a copy of their phone.
However, as the journalists and tech experts began analyzing the list, they found a much darker truth. The phone numbers being targeted weren’t just for bad guys. Many were government officials. Academics. Human rights activists. Political dissidents. The largest group – with over 120 numbers – was journalists.
The implications of this were staggering to Laurent and Sandrine. If NSO’s clients were targeting innocent individuals, then the very nature of free speech and democracy were under attack.
The true danger of having access to this list – why the secrecy and disabled electronics – became apparent when they looked at a series of numbers selected by a Moroccan client, targeting members of the French government. One name in particular stood out: Macron. French president Emmanuel Macron.
If somebody had the audacity to spy on one of the most prominent leaders in the world, then there’s no telling what they would do to keep that secret.
The two journalists knew they had to bring this story to the public. Their mission was as clear as it was difficult: Turn the information on the list into hard evidence, while remaining hidden from one of the largest cybersecurity companies in the world, and their powerful clients.
The first steps of the investigation were slow, methodical, and cautious.
What do you do with a huge case and 50,000 possible leads around the world? Laurent and Sandrine proceeded methodically. Nothing was going to come from a list of phone numbers from an unidentifiable source – they needed to independently verify that those numbers had been targeted for Pegasus infection.
They kept the information within the small circles of Forbidden Stories and Security Lab at first – the more people who knew, the greater the risk of losing the element of surprise. Not even family members or loved ones could be told.
However, the scope of the task meant they would eventually need to expand their circle and reach out to journalists in other countries. The tech experts Claudio and Donncha set about developing a method of secure, encrypted communication which could be used by journalists collaborating on the investigation.
They also created a forensics tool, which could scrape someone’s phone for evidence of Pegasus. It was up to Laurent and Sandrine to convince one of the 50,000 targets to volunteer their private phone for testing.
That first volunteer came in the form of Jorge Carrasco, director of Mexican investigative publication Proceso. In 2016, while reporting on a group of businessmen linked to the infamous Panama Papers, he received a text message from an unknown number, claiming to link to an important memo from a reputed journalism website. He replied “Who is this?”, but wisely did not open the link.
But luckily for Laurent and Sandrine, he also did not delete the message.
When approached by the journalists asking for permission to analyze the data on his phone, Jorge was understandably cautious, but eventually consented. He was working with Forbidden Stories on a different project, and he trusted that Laurent and his team knew what they were doing.
The mysterious text message matched up perfectly with the data they had in the leaked list. This was the first validation of both the authenticity of the data as well as the ability of their forensic tools.
It was the first step in a long journey, but they knew they were on the right track.
By collecting evidence and collaborating with more journalists, the “Pegasus Project” took form.
On top of collecting and corroborating evidence, the project needed partners around the globe prepared to coordinate mass publication of the project findings at an agreed upon date.
In January 2021, during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic and the political unrest of the presidential inauguration, Laurent and Sandrine arrived in the US to enlist the help of the Washington Post. They already had the support of the large European news outlets Die Zeit, Süddeutsche Zeitung and Le Monde, but they knew having journalists in the States would be crucial for the project’s success.
The team revealed what they had found and expected to find regarding the data, and after a 20-minute discussion with Jeff Leen, the head of the Post’s investigative units, they had the resources and support of one of the largest news outlets in the U.S.
The following months involved investigating the data, and coordinating with partners about preparing their articles and making sure nobody revealed their hand before the designated publication date.
The confirmations of the data and evidence of Pegasus’s misuse continued to pile up. The Moroccan government spying on journalists. Attempts in Mexico to subdue protests and criticism of the president. Saudi Arabia spying on journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s relatives, shortly before he was assassinated.
Before the publication date, Laurent and Sandrine reached out to NSO with their findings, to allow the company to make a statement before the news hit. The initial reply was brisk and dismissive, accusing their sources of outright lying. Some news outlets were preemptively threatened by defamation lawyers. However, none of the responses addressed any of the project’s claims directly.
All the editors involved double checked that the language of their articles was clear and precise, and made no claims beyond the evidence gathered. They were ready to go live.
On July 18, 2021, right on schedule, the Pegasus Project was on the front page of seventeen major media outlets across ten different countries.
This summary have shown you the story behind the inception, development, and release of the “Pegasus Project.”
The following days were a whirlwind for Laurent, Sandrine, and all the partners involved. The Kingdom of Morocco attempted to sue Laurent and Sandrine for defamation, for the allegations of spying on the French government.
Meanwhile, the French government began threatening Laurent with legal action if he didn’t share the list and reveal the source. But journalistic ethics and integrity won out, and the source remained safe.
As for NSO, first they vehemently denied the allegations, defending the crime-fighting importance of their software, before eventually saying “enough is enough” and refusing to talk to the media. Eventually, sales of Pegasus dropped, and by mid 2022 it was obvious that the company was not going to recover.
In these days of cybersurveillance and invasions of privacy, it’s important to be vigilant about who is monitoring our activity, and what kinds of agendas they have. Thanks to the hard work of journalists like Laurent Richard and Sandrine Rigaud, these threats to privacy, dignity, and democracy will continue to be brought to the public light.
Laurent Richard is a Paris-based award-winning documentary filmmaker who was named the 2018 European Journalist of the Year at the Prix Europa in Berlin. He is the founder of Forbidden Stories, a network of investigative journalists devoted continuing the unfinished work of murdered reporters to ensure the work they died for is not buried with them.
For more than twenty years Laurent Richard has been conducting major stories for television. He is the author of numerous investigations into the lies of the tobacco industry, the excesses of the financial sector, and the clandestine actions of Mossad and the CIA.
Since its creation, Forbidden Stories has received numerous awards, including a prestigious European Press Prize, two George Polk Awards, and a RSF Impact Prize for the Pegasus Project, published in 2021.
Sandrine Rigaud is a French investigative journalist. As editor of Forbidden Stories since 2019, she coordinated the award-winning Pegasus Project and the Cartel Project, an international investigation of assassinated Mexican journalists. Before joining Forbidden Stories, she directed feature-length documentaries for French television. She has reported from Tanzania, Uzbekistan, Lebanon, Qatar, and Bangladesh.
Technology and the Future, History, Politics, Society, Culture, Nonfiction, Espionage, Science, Business, True Crime, Civil Rights, Law Enforcement, Social Aspects of Technology, Social Sciences, Privacy and Surveillance, Politics of Privacy and Surveillance, Privacy and Surveillance in Society
Table of Contents
Introduction / by Rachel Maddow
The List / Laurent
“I’m Counting on You to Finish It” / Laurent
First Steps / Sandrine
Plaza del Mercado
To Live and Die in the Free Market
“Closing the First Circle” / Sandrine
Limited Time and Resources / Laurent
“In a Positive Direction”
Three Days in March / Sandrine
“Lacking Due Respect to the King” / Laurent
“Fragile, Rare, and Necessary” / Laurent
“Some Things That You Have Missed Before” / Sandrine
The First Don’t
“New Techniques” / Sandrine
“A Very Important Line of Research” / Laurent
“It’s Not Just Me”
A Choice Between Interests and Values / Laurent
“This Is Going to Be Big” / Sandrine
“We’re Rolling” / Sandrine
“This Is Really Happening” / Laurent
Epilogue / Laurent.
The book Pegasus is a journalistic investigation into one of the most powerful and secretive cyberweapons in the world: a spyware called Pegasus, developed by an Israeli company called NSO Group. The book reveals how Pegasus can infect any smartphone without the user’s knowledge, and access all the data, communications, and functions of the device, including the camera and microphone. The book also exposes how Pegasus has been used by authoritarian regimes and other actors to spy on journalists, activists, dissidents, human rights defenders, and even heads of state, with devastating consequences for their privacy, dignity, and democracy.
Pegasus is a gripping and eye-opening book that exposes the dark side of the digital age. The authors, Laurent Richard and Sandrine Rigaud, are award-winning investigative journalists who have led a global consortium of media outlets to uncover the secrets of Pegasus and its users. They have obtained a leaked list of more than 50,000 phone numbers that were selected as potential targets for Pegasus by NSO’s clients, and have verified dozens of cases of actual infections and surveillance. They have also interviewed victims, experts, whistleblowers, and former NSO employees to reveal the inner workings and motivations of the company and its customers.
The book is not only a factual report, but also a compelling narrative that takes the reader on a journey across continents and cultures, from Mexico to India, from Morocco to Rwanda, from France to Saudi Arabia. The book shows how Pegasus has been used to silence critics, intimidate opponents, blackmail victims, and influence elections. The book also raises important questions about the ethics, legality, and accountability of the cyber-surveillance industry, and the implications for human rights, civil liberties, and global security.
Pegasus is a must-read for anyone who cares about the future of democracy in the digital era. It is a shocking and sobering reminder of how vulnerable we are to cyberattacks, and how urgent it is to protect our privacy and dignity from those who seek to undermine them.