NEW DELHI: A group of 17 media outlets, including The Guardian, The Washington Post, and India’s The Wire, claimed that Pegasus phone hacking software was used to target potentially thousands of people around the world. The software made by Israel-based NSO Group remained in limelight in past for its snooping capabilities. But the developer of software maintains that it was created to track illegal and anti-national activities and they only serve government clients.
What Is Pegasus?
The sophisticated ‘Pegasus’ is spyware – a malicious software created by the Israeli-based cyber intelligence firm NSO Group to hack computers and smartphones in order to collect data and send it to a third party. It is malicious because it collects data without the person’s consent.
NSO Group, on the other hand, claimed that their motivation was to ‘develop best-in-class technology to assist government agencies in detecting and preventing terrorism and crime.’
In 2016, an Arab activist received a suspicious message on his iPhone, which led to the discovery of Pegasus spyware. Following that, Apple released a software update to close the loophole used by Pegasus to hack phones. Similar leaks were discovered in Android phones a year later.
In 2019, Facebook filed a lawsuit against NSO for developing Pegasus, which infected the devices of numerous public figures. WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, stated that Pegasus spyware was used to spy on Indian journalists and human rights activists around the world.
How is Pegasus used to hack a phone?
Pegasus is regarded as one of the “most sophisticated” hacking tools, and it is so seamless that a phone user may be unaware that their device has been compromised.
Hackers who use Pegasus instal malware on users’ phones by exploiting software flaws and security flaws. The spyware is so sneaky that it can be installed with the help of a missed phone call. Once infiltrated, it even deletes the call log entry, leaving no trace on the device.
Aside from data theft, Pegasus can also clear all information from the host device, including caller logs, calendar events, and so on – ensuring that the specific data is snatched away from the target person without their knowledge.
Who should be worried about Pegasus?
Pegasus is the ultimate surveillance tool, and if the government needs to spy on someone, this is the spyware to use. Pegasus can access even encrypted WhatsApp chats.
Having said that, the average phone user does not need to be concerned about the classic Pegasus. Even the most recent reports, as far as we know, refer to past exploits rather than current ones. As a result, if you use the most recent software versions – iOS 14 or Android 11 – as well as the most recent versions of apps like Facebook and WhatsApp, you should be safe.
However, your phone is still vulnerable to hacking. The NSO Group that runs Pegasus is still active, which means that there is a good chance that a new version of Pegasus spyware is also available. One would have no idea if their phone was being hacked.
However, it should be noted that Pegasus is prohibitively expensive, and according to the NSO Group, it is only sold to government agencies for “targeted surveillance.” So, unless a powerful organisation, such as the government, has a reason to put you on the radar, you are safe from Pegasus.
What is the Government saying:
According to the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology’s response to a media questionnaire, similar claims about the use of the software by the Indian government have been made in the past. “Those reports, too, had no factual basis and were categorically denied in the Indian Supreme Court by all parties, including WhatsApp. As a result, this news report appears to be a similar fishing expedition, based on conjectures and exaggerations designed to smear Indian democracy and its institutions “According to the government.
WhatsApp filed a lawsuit in a US court in late 2019, accusing Israeli surveillance firm NSO of assisting government spies in breaking into the phones of approximately 1,400 users across four continents.
Following reports that journalists and activists in India had also been targeted, IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told the Rajya Sabha that “no unauthorised interception” had occurred. “Any violation of the procedure is a legal offence. Anyone with a complaint can file a FIR or a formal complaint, and the government will investigate. There has been no unauthorised interception “He informed the Upper House.
In response to an RTI request at the time, the Ministry of Home Affairs denied buying or planning to buy the Pegasus software.
In a statement issued today, the MeitY stated that India is a strong democracy committed to ensuring the right to privacy for all citizens as a fundamental right.