NEW DELHI: The phone numbers of over 40 Indian journalists appear on a leaked list of potential targets for surveillance.
More important, forensic tests have confirmed that some of them were successfully snooped upon by an unidentified agency using Pegasus spyware, The Wire news portal confirms.
The leaked data includes the numbers of top journalists at big media houses like the Hindustan Times, including executive editor Shishir Gupta, India Today, Network18, The Hindu and Indian Express.
The presence of a phone number in the data does alone not reveal whether a device was infected with Pegasus or subject to an attempted hack. However, 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, the wire adds.
Pegasus is sold by the Israeli company, NSO Group, which says it only offers its spyware to “vetted governments”. The company refuses to make its list of customers public but the presence of Pegasus infections in India, and the range of persons that may have been selected for targeting, strongly indicate that the agency operating the spyware on Indian numbers is an official Indian one.
The Indian government has denied involvement in the hacking, saying, "The allegations regarding government surveillance on specific people has no concrete basis or truth associated with it whatsoever."
Members of the legal community, businessmen, government officials, scientists, activists and others are also in the list of over 300 verified Indian mobile telephone numbers, the reports said.
Apart from the 40 journalists, the database includes phone numbers of three major opposition leaders, one constitutional authority, two serving ministers in the Narendra Modi government, current and former heads and officials of security organisations and scores of businesspersons, The Wire adds. It will publish the names in the coming days.
Among the numbers is one that was registered in the name of a sitting Supreme Court judge, the website said, adding it was yet to verify if the judge was still using the number.
The Wire's analysis of the data shows that most of the names were targeted between 2018 and 2019, in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha general elections.