What is Pegasus software and how it poses a threat to countries like India ?
In May of 2019, Facebook-owned WhatsApp identified a bug in the app’s call function was used to install malicious code into the phone of the users. In late October, the malicious code was identified as Pegasus, a spyware developed by an Israeli company, NSO. WhatsApp along with its parent company Facebook then sued NSO in a U.S. court.
The spyware can be transmitter by calling the phone of the target on WhatsApp. Surprisingly the code manages to enter the phone even if the call is not picked up by the user. Relevant reports indicate that the very log of that call gets erased. According to a citizen lab report, this is only one of the many ways through which Pegasus can enter a phone. Several other cases where alarming SMSs were used have also surfaced
Once it has managed to infiltrate, the spyware can send the important information about the target like calendar events, contacts, phone call log and messages on apps like WhatsApp and Telegram to the spyware’s operator. According to cybersecurity firms, it can steal messages from other services that offer encryption as spyware is able to extract messages before they are encrypted. Furthermore, the operator can turn the user’s phone into a spying device by switching on its camera and or microphone.
The Government of India has denied purchasing Pegasus software from the Israeli NSO Group the Israeli company in return has stated that it sells the spyware to only registered government entities.
Human rights activists, lawyers, journalist along with leaders of Indian Opposition have claimed to be targeted by spyware, it is clear now that the matter is now of interest to the Indian security agencies. Are you safe?
India must learn a lesson from this fiasco and bring in a strong privacy and data protection framework, including data localisation and deployment of communications software and infrastructure. Furthermore, the nation must develop homegrown alternatives for messaging services like WhatsApp and Telegram which can better protect the data of ordinary Indians.