What exactly is Pegasus?
The complex ‘Pegasus’ is spyware – malicious software built by Israeli cyber intelligence outfit NSO Group to penetrate computers and smartphones in order to collect data and send it to a third party. It is malicious since it collects data without the person’s permission. NSO Group, on the other hand, stated that their goal was to “create best-in-class technologies to assist government agencies in detecting and preventing terrorism and crime.”
In 2016, an Arab activist received a weird message on his iPhone, which led to the discovery of Pegasus malware. Following that, Apple provided a software update to close the flaw exploited by Pegasus in order to hack phones. Similar flaws were discovered in Android phones a year later. In 2019, Facebook sued NSO for producing Pegasus, a malware that infected the smartphones of a number of celebrities. WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, revealed that Pegasus malware was used to spy on Indian journalists and human rights activists around the world.
Pegasus malware, which was in the news in 2019 for compromising the personal data of thousands of WhatsApp users, is mentioned in a massive data breach report that is making the rounds everywhere. Over 40 Indian journalists, three key Opposition figures, one constitutional authority, two serving ministers in the Narendra Modi government, current and past chiefs and employees of security organizations, and several businesspeople were among those in the snooping database this time. The Guardian and The Washington Post, among others, provided key details indicating the extent of what they called “global surveillance operations” including Pegasus. The NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden tweeted on Sunday that this “spill” could be “the story of the year.”
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Pegasus is used to hack a phone in what way?
Pegasus, dubbed one of the “most advanced” hacking tools, is so undetectable that a phone user could not even realize their device has been hacked. Hackers that use Pegasus employ software flaws and security bugs to install malware on victims’ phones — mostly iPhones and Android smartphones. The spyware is so undetectable that it can be installed simply by missing a phone call. It even deletes the call log entry once invaded, leaving no trace on the device. Apart from data theft, Pegasus may wipe all information from the host device, including caller logs, calendar events, and so on, ensuring that the target person’s data is stolen without their knowledge.
Opposition’s Says Opposition parties slammed the government for allegedly tapping the phones of significant figures in the country with Israeli Pegasus spyware, calling for an independent judicial or parliamentary investigation. An international media consortium reported on Sunday that Israeli spyware sold only to government agencies may have been used to hack over 300 verified mobile phone numbers in India, including those of two serving ministers, over 40 journalists, three opposition leaders, and one sitting judge, as well as scores of entrepreneurs and activists. With the hashtag “Pegasus,” Congress leader Rahul Gandhi took a shot at Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the issue. “We know what he’s been reading- everything on your phone,” Gandhi tweeted Monday in response to his own two-day-old post, in which he inquired, “I’m wondering what you guys are reading these days.” The administration, on the other hand, has refuted any charges of monitoring on its part, claiming that the accusation lacks any concrete basis or reality. “Any form of illegal surveillance” by unauthorized personnel is not feasible in India, according to IT and Communications Minister Ashwini Vaishnav, who told the Lok Sabha that various checks and balances are in place.
Congressman Shashi Tharoor, who called it a “major national security issue,” sought an investigation by an impartial judicial or parliamentary body. Since the administration has stated that no snooping has taken place, he believes that this should be investigated. “I believe that a full independent judicial probe or a joint parliamentary committee should be conducted.” He told reporters, “We can’t just sweep it under the rug.”
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He also brought the subject up on social media. “The Government of India has denied using unlawful surveillance. If Pegasus is only marketed to governments, what other governments (China/Pakistan?) are utilizing it to spy on important Indian citizens? Shouldn’t the authorities, referring to the Indian government, ask for an independent investigation?” he tweeted.
According to the CPIM, the party raised in Parliament two years ago that this “hazardous malware” was being utilized in India, as disclosed by WhatsApp. The Modi government’s statement did not explicitly deny that it used NSO (the Israeli tech firm that developed the spyware), but it did say that there was no “unauthorized surveillance.” With these findings, it is apparent that this government has enlisted the help of the National Security Agency to spy on its own citizens,” the party stated in a statement on Monday. “The central government must be transparent about its participation with NSO, what the terms are, and how much our tax dollars have been spent on this,” the party demanded. “The right to privacy is a fundamental right recognized by the Supreme Court, but the BJP administration is delaying the passage of a privacy law,” the party claimed. The CPIM also stated that there had been previous cases of human rights activists’ smartphones and computers being hacked and exposed. The espionage toll is allegedly digitally implanted on their gadgets, according to the report. “It is then used to arrest them under harsh laws.”
The Government’s take on data leak report
The Union government has denied allegations of data snooping on specific individuals, claiming that the allegations “have no concrete basis or truth attached with them whatsoever.”
“It’s crucial to stress that government agencies follow a well-established protocol for intercepting, which includes sanction and oversight from high-ranking officials in both the federal and state governments, and is limited to clearly stated reasons exclusively in the national interest. The allegations that the government is spying on specific individuals have no solid foundation or support in fact.
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