On July 18, 2021, The Wire, as part of an international collaborative investigation titled “Pegasus Project”, revealed that the Israeli spyware firm NSO targeted “over 300 verified Indian mobile telephone numbers, including those used by ministers, opposition leaders, journalists, the legal community, businessmen, government officials, scientists, rights activists and others” through their spyware, Pegasus. The revelation was made on the basis of a leaked database accessed by Paris-based media nonprofit Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International, which contains the list of numbers believed to have been targeted by NSO. NSO, according to its own website, sells exclusively to vetted government clients.
Subsequent reporting by the Wire and the Washington Post revealed that forensic analysis conducted by Amnesty International’s Security Lab definitively showed that the Pegasus spyware had been used to target 37 phones, of which 10 belonged to Indians. While the leaked database contained the phone numbers of over 40 Indian journalists, the Security Lab was able to confirm that the Pegasus spyware was used to compromise the phones of former Indian Express journalist Sushant Singh, former EPW editor Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, former Outlook journalist S.N.M. Abdi and The Wire’s two founding editors Siddharth Varadarajan and M.K. Venu. The NSO Group asserted that the leaked database did not represent any list of numbers that were targeted by governments using Pegasus, and alluded that such a database may be accessed by its customers for ‘other purposes’.