Israeli spyware Pegasus is back in the news with reports stating that several public figures all around the world were tracked by it.
1. What is Pegasus software?
Pegasus is a surveillance software developed by an Israeli tech firm called the NSO Group founded in 2010. This company sells high-end spy techniques to its customers all over the world.
2. How does it enter systems?
Earlier this software used techniques like spear-phishing using text links or physically hacking devices but now the software has evolved and has become a serious cause of worry. The software can now attack with ‘zero-click’ which does not require any action from the phone’s user. This has made this software without a doubt the most powerful spyware out there, more potent and almost impossible to detect or stop.
3. Who uses it?
The Israeli defense department has given permission to NSO to sell the spyware to government and official bodies all around the world.
4. Who are the targets?
By now many people have been targeted, including the members of the Arab royal family, journalists, human rights activists, business executives and politicians all over the world. In a recent investigation, it was revealed that government officials, opposition politicians, journalists, activists and many others were allegedly spied on by the Indian government.
Some capabilities of this software are now on sale for everyone. Other types of spyware are for sale to suspicious people who want to check on their family’s whereabouts. In basic words, now the targets of the Pegasus software can be anyone and everyone around us.
5. Which devices are vulnerable?
All devices, practically. The earliest and widely targeted device has been the iPhone through Apple’s default iMessage app and the Push Notification Service (APNs) protocol upon which it is based. The spyware can impersonate an application downloaded to an iPhone and transmit itself as push notifications via Apple’s servers. However, not only Apple but an Android version of Pegasus was also noticed soon. Lookout and Google released its details in April 2017.
WhatsApp in October 2019, blamed the NSO Group for exploiting a vulnerability in its video-calling feature. “A user would receive what appeared to be a video call, but this was not a normal call. After the phone rang, the attacker secretly transmitted malicious code in an effort to infect the victim’s phone with spyware. The person did not even have to answer the call,” WhatsApp chief Will Cathcart said.
6. What all can it spy on your device?
Once the software enters the phone successfully, it can read messages, emails, WhatsApp chats, view photos, videos and it can also access calendars, GPS data, activate camera, microphone, and also record phone calls of its targets.
7. How did the spyware get revealed recently?
Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International, a human rights group, had access to a list of more than 50,000 numbers and shared it with the news organizations around the world, which did further research and analysis. Amnesty’s Security Lab did a forensic examination of the phones.
8. How to avoid being spied on by Pegasus?
Honestly, when Pegasus hacks into one’s phone’s operating system, there is nothing one can do to stop a network injection. Worse, the person will not even be aware of it unless the device is scanned at a digital security lab.
So the least a person can do to protect themselves from being spied on is to stay up to date with every operating system update and security patch released by device manufacturers. These manufacturers observe such spyware threats and develop new updates to defend the devices from further attacks.
Also, if one has the budget, changing handsets periodically is perhaps the most effective, if expensive, remedy.