Bhaskar Explainer: Pegasus spyware claims to have spied on more than 40 Indian journalists, know everything about this spyware

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16 minutes agoAuthor: Abid Khan

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Pegasus spyware, which was the cause of heated debate in the Rajya Sabha in 2019, is once again in the headlines. The news portal ‘The Wire’ has claimed in its report that the Indian government has spied around 300 Indians between 2017 and 2019. These people include journalists, lawyers, social workers, opposition leaders and businessmen. The government hacked the phones of these people through Pegasus spyware. After this report, the government has clarified all the allegations as baseless.

Pegasus has been in the headlines many times before. In 2019, WhatsApp also sued the company that made Pegasus.

Understand, what is Pegasus? What is the latest reason for its coming into the limelight? How does this spyware work? And what have been the controversies about Pegasus before this…

First understand why the matter is in the headlines at the moment?

  • Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International, a Paris-based organization, have a list of about 50,000 phone numbers. These institutions claim that these numbers have been hacked through Pegasus spyware.
  • Both these institutions have shared this list with 16 media organizations around the world. After weeks of investigation, it has been revealed that the governments of different countries are spying on many people including journalists, opposition leaders, businessmen, social workers, lawyers and scientists.
  • India’s name is also in this list. According to the report of the news portal ‘The Wire’, the names of 300 Indian people are included in the people who have been spied. The spyware Pegasus made by the Israeli company has been used for spying.
Pegasus is a winged horse in Greek mythology.  Israeli Software has also made its company logo on this imaginary horse.  A few years ago Facebook has tried to buy this company.

Pegasus is a winged horse in Greek mythology. Israeli Software has also made its company logo on this imaginary horse. A few years ago Facebook has tried to buy this company.

What is Pegasus?

  • Pegasus is a spyware. Spyware means software used for spying or surveillance. Through this, any phone can be hacked. After hacking, all the information including the camera, mic, messages and calls of that phone goes to the hacker. This spyware is made by the Israeli company NSO Group.
  • Whose names are included in the list? The list includes 40 journalists, three top leaders of the opposition, a person holding a constitutional post, two ministers of the Modi government and several businessmen, including current and former heads of security agencies. These journalists are associated with organizations like Hindustan Times, Indian Express, TV-18, The Hindu, The Tribune, The Wire. Many independent journalists are also named among them.

When was Pegasus in the headlines before?

  • Pegasus first came into the limelight in 2016. UAE human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor had received several SMS from unknown numbers, in which several links were sent. When Ahmed got suspicious about these messages, he got these messages checked by cyber experts. Investigation revealed that if Ahmed had clicked on the link sent in the message, Pegasus would have been downloaded in his phone.
  • Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi was assassinated on 2 October 2018. Pegasus’ name also came up in the investigation of this massacre. Investigative agencies had raised suspicions that Jamal Khashoggi was spied on before his murder.
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  • Pegasus was in the headlines in 2019 as well. Then WhatsApp said that the WhatsApp information of about 1400 journalists and human rights activists was hacked from their phones through Pegasus. Congress leader Digvijay Singh had raised this matter vigorously in the Rajya Sabha and also made many allegations against the government.
  • Apart from this, the Mexican government has also been accused of using this spyware illegally.

What is the Government of India’s say on the whole matter?

  • The Ministry of Electronics and IT has given clarification on this whole matter. The ministry has said that India is a strong democracy and is fully dedicated to the right to privacy of its citizens. The allegations of espionage against the government are baseless.

What is the role of the government in this matter?

  • The company that made Pegasus says that it does not sell this software to any private company, but only gives it to the government and government agencies for use. This means that if it has been used in India, then somewhere the government or government agencies are involved in it.

How does Pegasus work?

  • According to cyber security research group Citizen Lab, hackers use different methods to install Pegasus on a device. One way is to send an “exploit link” via message to the target device. As soon as the user clicks on this link, Pegasus is automatically installed on the phone.
  • In 2019, when Pegasus was installed on devices via WhatsApp, hackers took a different approach. At that time, hackers took advantage of a bug in the video call feature of WhatsApp. The hackers made video calls to the target phone through a fake WhatsApp account. During this time Pegasus was installed in the phone through a code.

What information does Pegasus have for you once it’s on your phone?

  • Once installed on your phone, Pegasus can be instructed by a hacker command and control server.
  • Your passwords, contact numbers, location, calls and messages can also be recorded and sent to the control server.
  • Pegasus can also automatically turn on your phone’s camera and mic. Your real time location will also be known to the hacker.
  • Along with this, the hacker also has information about your e-mail, SMS, network details, device settings, browsing history. That is, once the Pegasus spyware is installed on your device, then all your information will continue to be available to the hacker.

Why is Pegasus so famous?

  • Pegasus does not leave any footprint on the phone once installed. That is, even if your phone is hacked, you will not know.
  • It can also work on low bandwidth. Also, it uses less battery, memory and data of the phone so that there is no doubt about the phone being hacked.
  • The iOS of the iPhone, which is considered more secure than Android, can also be hacked.
  • Pegasus continues to do its job even when the phone is locked.

There is more news…

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