Cyberattacks such as hacking, data breaches, and other forms of cybercrime are on the rise in our digitally evolved world. One of the ways to perform cyberattacks is through spyware. Spyware is harmful software that is installed on your computer or mobile device without your knowledge or agreement in order to harm your system or steal sensitive data.
Pegasus is mobile phone spyware that can harvest personal and location data and manipulate the phone's microphones and cameras without the user's knowledge. Pegasus was developed by the Israeli technology firm NSO Group and is making news again after it was revealed that Israeli police used it to spy on scores of Israeli civilians, including key government officials and anti-Benjamin Netanyahu protesters.
Public Discovery of the Pegasus Spyware
Pegasus Spyware was first discovered in 2016 when a human rights activist in the United Arab Emirates got a text message that turned out to be a phishing scam. He forwarded these emails to a security agency, and it was discovered that if the user had clicked on those links, his phone would have been infected with the Pegasus virus.
A database of around 50,000 phone numbers that may have been targeted for surveillance using Pegasus was recently leaked to several standard investigative media platforms, including public officials' contacts, but this does not necessarily mean the device was successfully penetrated – and various cyber investigation mechanisms are currently underway for the same.
There are 189 journalists on the list - over 600 politicians and government officials and numerous leaders of state, including Emmanuel Macron of France, Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, and Imran Khan of Pakistan. Employees from Al Jazeera, The Associated Press, CNN, The Wall Street Journal, Le Monde, and The Financial Times are among the journalists.
Al Jazeera journalists, as well as Mexican, and Saudi journalists and activists, filed lawsuits in Israel and Cyprus in 2018 alleging that the company's spyware was used to hack their devices along with those of companies such as Apple and Facebook.
Around the world, at least 65 business executives and 85 human rights advocates have also been targeted. NSO has denied wrongdoing and stated that it does not reveal its clients' identities.
Risks Associated with the Pegasus Spyware
The Pegasus Spyware is designed to attack computers or mobile devices in order to get access to them and gather data without the user's consent, which is subsequently delivered to a third party spying on individuals.
The spyware is designed to hide its presence and avoid detection. Pegasus has access to images, site searches, passwords, call histories, communications, and social network posts, among other things.
It employs the zero-click approach, which means that the device owner is not required to click on the message, mail, link, or provide any other input for the virus to function. Furthermore, even if the user deletes a questionable message, the malware will continue to infect the device.
The access is granted to the point where the person spying on an individual may use their device mic or camera with ease. Pegasus Spyware can even access end-to-end encrypted messages or files because it can steal them before or after encryption.
This spyware is highly costly to operate (according to sources, it costs government agencies over USD 650,000). As a result, it will be almost impossible for government agencies to employ this instrument without a good reason.
FAQs About Pegasus Spyware
- Who created Pegasus Spyware?
The Israeli cyber-arms company, NSO Group.
- How does Pegasus spyware get on one's phone?
Pegasus infects phones by tricking a target into clicking on a malicious link in text messages or emails.
- Is Pegasus spyware legal?
Installing spyware like Pegasus violates the country's surveillance and information technology regulations according to Section 69 of the Information Technology Act of 2000.
- How does one know if they are infected by Pegasus?
The Mobile Verification Toolkit (MVT) can be used to detect the existence of Pegasus spyware. It was developed by Amnesty International.