An investigation involving several media outlets and Amnesty International found Israeli spyware on smartphones belonging to journalists and human rights activists, although the software was licensed to government entities for counter-terrorism and law enforcement.

The probe examined 67 smartphones, finding 23 were infected with the Pegasus spyware from Israel-based NSO Group and another 14 showed signs of attempted penetration.

NSO Group, a unit of Q Cyber Technologies, maintains the 40 countries it sells Pegasus to are carefully screened and are in fact using the software for life-saving counter-terrorism work.

It also claims Pegasus can only infect smartphones registered in select countries. In a statement, NSO Group explained it is “technologically impossible” for smartphones registered with US network operators to be infected by the spyware.

“Our products, sold to vetted foreign governments, cannot be used to conduct cybersurveillance within the US, and no customer has ever been granted technology that would enable them to access phones with US numbers”.

The Pegasus spyware typically infects a phone when a user clicks on a text message. It can access the phone’s camera and microphone to record information and send it to third parties without the user’s knowledge, and can also transmit data already on the phone including passwords and photos.

NSO Group added it cannot see the data users abstract from targeted phones and has the ability to suspend a customer’s access to its software if it learns of misuse.