Pegasus spyware explained: Who are its clients and how it snares targets

Pegasus spyware explained: Who are its clients and how it snares targets

Israeli spyware is back in the news with reports stating that several public figures in India and elsewhere were tracked by it. As per the expose by a global consortium of media publications the phones of union ministers, opposition leaders, journalists and activists in India were bugged by activating the spyware.

Know more about the malicious software including its orgin, patrons and functions.

Its creator

• Pegasus spyware was created by Israeli cyber intelligence company NSO Group.

• The company started its operations in 2010. According to 2015 statistics, income stood at 15 crore dollars (Rs 1080 crore)

• The first owners of the company Francisco Partners had put the firm on sale for 100 crore US dollars in 2017. Subsequently European private equity fund Novalpina Capital invested in the company.

• Israeli defence department has given permission to NSO to sell the spyware only to government clients.

• NSO's explanation is that Pegasus is used only for tracing terrorists and hardcore criminals. But in its transparency report, NSO openly admits that the software is misused.

Other NSO products

• Besides Pegasus, NSO also has other tech intelligence products. The well-declared objective is to trace terrorists, drug mafia and pedophiles besides preventing drone intrusion.


From El Chapo to Khashoggi

• The Mexican government had used the earlier version of Pegasus in 2011 to nab Mexican drug lord "El Chapo" Joaquin Guzman.

• Canada's Citizen Lab had disclosed that Pegasus was used to put UAE human rights activist Ahmed Manzoor under surveillance in 2016.

• There were reports that Saudi Arabia had used Pegasus for monitoring journalist Jamal Khashoggi who was found murdered in Saudi Embassy in Istanbul.

• It is alleged the call detail records of Indian human rights activists and journalist were hacked in 2019. The phone records of the advocate who represented the persons arrested in connection with the Bhima Koregaon incident were also leaked.

How Pegasus traps you

• First step - WhatsApp video call is made to the phone which is to be hacked for spying.

• Before the person on the other side picks the call, it is disconnected.

• The spyware earlier used to be get installed automatically taking advantage of the WhatsApp lapses in handling missed calls. Later WhatsApp rectified these lapses.

• Besides missed calls, Pegasus also reached the phones via links that are sent as messages.

• The spyware can hack passwords, phone numbers, SMS messages and live calls. Besides, it can switch on camera and microphone. It is called "jail breaking."

Top secrecy about clients

• The spyware has as many as 60 government clients across 40 countries.

• The clients include intelligence agencies (51%), law enforcing agencies (38%) and armed forces (11%).

Ban on misuse

• NSO has banned 10 government clients over the last five years for misusing Pegasus.

• During a period of one year the company decided to let go 15 percent business possibilities because of human rights issues. The total business value was worth Rs 2,238 crore.

• It decided against offering services to 55 countries considering the possibility of misuse.

How countries are marked

• The countries are divided into A,B,C, D categories. The countries with highest risk are placed in D category.

• In the next phase, a score of 100 marks is given in each category. Services are provided only to A,B, C category countries which have more than 60 marks. The countries below 20 marks are left out.

• The marks are given taking into account the background of each country and previous incidents.

Other spyware

• Other companies that have launched spyware include Candiru, Variant, Quadrim, Cellebrite.

• Taking advantage of the lapses of Microsoft, Candiru hacked hundreds of information and details across 10 countries.

• In order to rectify the lapses, Microsoft released a fresh update only days ago.#ith the Bhima Koregaon incident were also leaked.

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