Military-grade spyware was used to hack the smartphones of dozens of journalists and activists, according to an investigation conducted and reported by 17 media organizations.

The Pegasus spyware was created and leased by the NSO Group, an Israeli firm. It is designed to be used to track terrorists by military, intelligence agencies and law enforcement officials. However, the list of countries with large numbers of hacking targets suggests the extremely sophisticated spyware may well have been provided to some leaders with problematic human-rights records seeking to persecute enemies, such as Viktor Orban of Hungary.

Among those targeted for hacking were two women connected to murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and Cecilio Pineda Birto, a Mexican journalist who was slain in 2017. The phone numbers on the devices targeted for hacking included hundreds of world leaders, business executives, activists and other journalists. Thousands of other numbers were not immediately identified, with the largest number of those being for Mexican phones.

The investigation involved Forbidden Stories, a Paris-based journalism nonprofit, and Amnesty International. The media partners on the project include The Washington Post, PBS Frontline, the Guardian in England, Le Monde in France, Haaretz in Israel and others.

NSO, in responses printed by The Washington Post, rejected the conclusions of the investigation. "Your sources have supplied you with information that has no factual basis, as evidenced by the lack of supporting documentation for many of the claims," it claimed.

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