A military-grade spyware Pegasus, licensed by an Israeli firm NSO Group was used to hack more than 50000 phones belonging to journalists, human rights activists, business executives and politicians, an investigation by a group of 17 media organisations has revealed.

The leaked database of numbers was accessed by Paris-based media nonprofit Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International and shared with several news organisations as part of a collaborative investigation called the ‘Pegasus Project Out of 67 smartphones where attacks were suspected. Of those, 23 were successfully infected and 14 showed signs of attempted penetration.

The list includes 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.

Forensic tests conducted as part of this project on a small cross-section of phones associated with these numbers revealed clear signs of targeting by Pegasus spyware in 37 phones, of which 10 are Indian.

The numbers of those in the database include over 40 journalists, three major opposition figures, one constitutional authority, two serving ministers in the Narendra Modi government, current and former heads and officials of security organisations and scores of businessmen

The Centre in its reaction to the report said that the allegations regarding government surveillance on specific people has no concrete basis or truth associated with it whatsoever.

The numbers on the list are unattributed, but reporters were able to identify more than 1,000 people spanning more than 50 countries through research and interviews on four continents.