NSO’s Pegasus Spyware Wrecks Havoc, Israel Begins Investigation

Pegasus Spyware Attack: Israel Starts Investigation

The news of Pegasus spyware being used to target journalists and activists is a hot topic throughout the world. According to media reports, NSO, an Israeli firm, has been found selling this phone malware to governments throughout the world. Similarly, a deep analysis from Amnesty International shows that spyware can affect devices through a zero-click exploit. Zero-click exploitation means that the users need not interact with any links or files for the malware to get activated. This is a key trait that makes it more dangerous than other types of malware.

Even though the shockwaves came as an aftermath of the Forbidden Stories report, there have always been warning signs. In 2016, UAE was found using spyware to track human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor. Likewise, there has also been a case of use against journalist Rori Donaghy, who criticized the autocratic regime’s abuses. In 2017, reports showed that Mexico was using spyware against anti-corruption and human rights activists. Furthermore, in 2018, several Saudi human rights activists found themselves on the receiving end of malicious messages. By 2019, there were allegations of misuse of Whatsapp’s call and message function and Facebook filed a lawsuit against NSO.

Israel Begins Investigation

Israel has set up a task force and began an investigation on NSO Group for the Pegasus spyware scandal. The investigation comes as a result of increasing diplomatic pressure. The task force consists of representatives from the Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Justice, Foreign Ministry, Mossad, and the military intelligence agency. According to the defence minister, Israel is studying the allegations and accusations against NSO. Likewise, he also reiterated that Israel only allows the export of cyber products to governments for legal use.

NSO’s Pegasus Spyware Wrecks Havoc, Israel Begins Investigation

High Profile Targets

Reports and investigations show that Pegasus spyware is being used against high-profile targets in multiple countries. These include royal family members, government officials, business executives, journalists, and human rights activists. According to the Washington Post, the phone numbers of 14 heads of state were potential targets. This includes French President Emmanuel Macron, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, King of Morocco Mohammed VI, and leaders of Iraq, South Africa, Egypt, Lebanon, Uganda, and Belgium. Likewise, the United Arab Emirates also faces accusations that it is using spyware to spy on the Yemeni government.

In India, the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi came under fire after more than 1000 phone numbers leaked were from inside the country. Major opposition leader Rahul Gandhi criticized the government and accused Modi of treason. Likewise, they demanded an investigation against Amit Shah, the Home and Internal Security Minister, and the PM himself. Furthermore, 11 phone numbers were related to a female employee of the Supreme Court of India. She had accused Ranjan Gogol, the former Chief Justice of India, of sexual harassment. Moreover, the election commissioner for the 2019 national polls was also a potential target.

Journalists are also one of the prominent targets of Pegasus spyware. Saudi Arabia faces an accusation of using it to spy on Jamal Kashoggi, a Washington Post journalist, who was later murdered and dismembered in Turkey. Similarly, Roula Khalaf, the first female editor of the Financial Times, was under surveillance in 2018. Likewise, Cecilio Pineda, a Mexican journalist who was murdered in March 2017, was found to be under surveillance one month ago.  In Hungary, Viktor Orban’s government is facing accusations of the use of Pegasus spyware on their critics. Investigative journalists Szabolcs Panyi and Andras Szabo from Hungarian investigative website Direkt36 have come forward with this sensational report.

How Does the Spyware Work?

Pegasus spyware is the same type of malicious software that enters your devices and causes illegal breaches and theft of data. However, its design and zero-click activation make it even more dangerous and powerful. Pegasus spyware exploits the zero-day vulnerabilities that come with mobile operating systems like Android and iOS. Since OS developers are themselves unaware of such kinds of vulnerabilities, you are less likely to thwart them with security patches and updates.

In the previous versions of the spyware, you could infect your device by clicking on malicious messages and links. This is an avoidable threat if you are cautious in the online space. However, as the spyware became more powerful, you could not even think of being cautious. Consider this example: You get a missed call on Whatsapp. The spyware has already entered your phone through the missed call. However, it has already deleted any trace of the made call.  Furthermore, it can also enter your phone through SMS, iMessage, and internal vulnerabilities.

When Pegasus spyware enters into your smartphone, it can obtain administrative privileges which means it can do more than you. Likewise, it can harvest all your data from the device and send it to the attacker. For example, it can steal your photos, videos, recordings, calls, messages, web searches, social media posts, and even detect your keystrokes. Furthermore, it can also activate your camera and microphone without your permission or knowledge.

NSO Denies Illegal Use, Blocks Clients

NSO Group, on the other hand, denies all accusations that all the leaked phone numbers were targeted using the Pegasus spyware. Likewise, they clearly state that surveillance services may be openly available to governments to thwart the threats of terrorism, pedophilia, and other illegal activities. Similarly, since NSO does not operate systems sold to governments, it cannot have access to any form of customer information. Links to the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi were baseless and without validation, the company wrote in The Guardian. Furthermore, the blame for the murder of the Mexican journalist cannot be put on the software just because there is some correlation. Moreover, they have criticized Forbidden Stories of biased blames against it just because their clients are involved in human rights abuses.

Similarly, NSO Group has also blocked some of its clients after the pressure from the Israeli government. Defending that it is firm in its voice of selling the Pegasus spyware to “authorized governments only”, it has already cut ties with five governments.

Recent Tech News with Top World Business

In this blog, we came across one of the most sensational news stories of 2021, the Pegasus spyware attack. First, we looked at the major media reports and the history of the suspicious software. Second, we listed out some of the high-profile targets who were the victims of its use. Likewise, we saw a brief description of how the spyware enters our mobile devices, what vulnerabilities it exploits, and how it can steal our data. Finally, we closed out with the news of the investigation by Israel and the denial of blame by NSO Group.

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