On 18 July, one year to the day after the revelations about the beginning of the Pegasus project, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) will present its newly founded Digital Security Lab: a digital forensic laboratory created to help counter the threats of online surveillance.

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Based in Berlin, the Digital Security Lab is designed to conduct in-depth analysis on the devices of journalists who suspect they are under digital surveillance. Whether it's a virus infecting their devices or hacking into their social accounts, journalists face many threats that require strong and rigorous solutions.

The use of digital attacks is vile and insidious," says Christophe Deloire, Secretary General of RSF. "Journalists are the prey of choice for these invisible attacks: RSF will not leave them alone to face the digital mercenaries of the predators of press freedom."

"The digital threat to journalists is real; the Pegasus scandal has made this painfully clear," said Christian Mihr, Executive Director of RSF Germany. "With the RSF Digital Security Lab we can finally provide an adequate response to the many requests for help we receive from journalists all over the world who fear that they are being spied on or have become targets of other forms of digital attacks."

Any journalist can contact the Digital Security Lab if they have a plausible suspicion that they have become the target of digital espionage because of their journalistic work. Plausible suspicion exists, for example, if a person has received sophisticated phishing messages. Other grounds for suspicion are inexplicable information leaks or general acts of repression by an authoritarian state towards the journalist. The more likely it is that powerful and influential people don't like a journalist's work, the greater the potential threat.

This new Digital Security Lab is composed by a team of three experts. They will examine the end devices of journalists for traces of known spying technology. Hackers often use phishing tricks to get journalists to click on a link or open an attachment. Accordingly, the search for clues and traces generally starts with the analysis of suspicious messages to find out whether they are a front for spyware. In addition, the team examines installed programmes and checks for other data traces that might offer clues about previously executed programmes or activities. 

Pegasus probably just the tip of the iceberg

On 18 July 2021, research by an international media network revealed that the phones of tens of thousands of politicians, human rights activists and journalists had potentially been hacked using the Pegasus spyware developed by the Israeli cyber-arms company NSO Group. The list of phone numbers included those of more than 200 journalists. On 20 July 2021, RSF and two journalists from Morocco and France filed a complaint with the Paris prosecutor's office.

In addition to offering practical support to journalists targeted by digital surveillance, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has campaigned for many years for the introduction of effective regulations to govern the export of surveillance technology.

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