Nearly a week ago, dozens of El Salvador journalists’ and human rights defenders’ phones were hacked by the spyware Pegasus. The majority of individuals targeted, according to researchers, work for the El Faro news organization, which has reported on suspected secret contacts between the government and gangs. Although there is not enough proof to place blame, most evidence points toward government involvement.
Earlier today, El Salvador’s government has denied responsibility for utilizing the Pegasus eavesdropping software to hack the phones of at least thirty-five journalists and other members of civil society. According to two studies from cybersecurity organizations, Access Now and Citizen Lab, the spying took place between July 2020 and mid-November 2021. The hacker’s identity was not disclosed in the report. El Faro’s founder and director, Carlos Dada, claims the hacking is the work of the Salvadoran government, “It hasn’t surprised us to know we were hacked but the amount, frequency and duration of the hacking did. Nearly everyone at El Faro has been hacked,” Dada said. Many citizens are left to question whether their privacies are being granted. Why would the government stop at just journalists?
Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas International Amnesty Director said in a statement this past Thursday, “The use of Pegasus for the surveillance of communications in El Salvador reveals a new threat to human rights in the country,” However, It is imperative to understand the versatility of this technology. Although the technology was being used in El Salvador, it can target people all around the world.
Carlos Martínez, an investigative reporter with El Faro, said the analysis found that the hackers spent 269 days inside his phone. “That doesn’t stop being frightening,” he said. “It’s difficult to process.” The spyware operator tried to enter his phone again while it was being analyzed, this allowed investigators to determine the operator was in El Salvador.
Pegasus is spyware developed by the Israeli cyber arms firm, NSO Group, that can be covertly installed on cell phones and other devices running most versions of iOS and Android. As of 2016, Pegasus was capable of reading text messages, tracking calls, collecting passwords, location tracking, accessing the target device’s microphone and camera, and harvesting information from apps. Apple sued NSO in November, trying to stop its software from compromising its operating systems. Facebook also sued the company in 2019, alleging that it was hacking its WhatsApp messenger app.