What Makes the Pegasus Spyware So Dangerous?
By Nick Anderson 5 minutes
The level of surveillance that exists in the world today exceeds imagination. It’s almost dystopian. No one is safe from the prying eyes of authoritarian governments, not even Prime Ministers. The recent revelations under the “Pegasus Project” has brought to light show how governments use spyware to monitor people of interest.
Unlike underground hacker groups selling spyware to customers, the Pegasus spyware operates in daylight. Israeli-based NSO Group is a cybersecurity firm that developed the spyware and sells it to governments for surveillance. The notion is to curb terrorism by actively monitoring potential threat actors. But, the right use of such a tool depends solely on the entity controlling it. As we have seen with the revelations from the Pegasus Project, the reality rarely matches that optimism.
What is the Pegasus Project?
The Pegasus Project is the work of 17 media organizations that established a consortium to dive deep into the NSO Group’s spyware that several of its clients have weaponized to target journalists, human rights activists, politicians, and government officials. The findings unearthed by Amnesty International were shared with the media organizations and Citizen Lab for further investigation.
The research found that 37 phones belonging to various people were successfully penetrated by the NSO Group’s spyware or showed signs of attack. Amnesty International found a list of 5000 phone numbers which is believed to be a list of people NSO Group’s clients have picked as targets.
Targets include members from the Saudi Royal family, politicians in India, journalists belonging to various publications worldwide, the deceased Jamal Kashoggi’s wives, and even a number once used by the current Prime Minister of Pakistan.
What is the NSO Group?
NSO Group is an Israeli firm that develops surveillance software. Its prominent tool is the Pegasus spyware which it sells to governments to thwart terrorism.
The firm believes that its software can help governments take down evils such as drug cartels, human traffickers, pedophile rings, and terrorists. NSO Group argues that the advent of end-to-end encryption is allowing criminals to cloak and continue to communicate and carry out operations without detection. The spyware, which we will detail in this blog, seeks to overcome such technologies that provide relief to criminals worldwide.
Although the purpose of the spyware is sound and welcoming, there is little in the way of governments bypassing that purpose for spying on targets that don’t fall under that description. It’s a classic move to repress voices that don’t echo the government’s narrative.
NSO claims that every government is vetted before granting access to the spyware, and some of them have been dropped as clients for violating terms. But as the Pegasus Project has revealed, NSO clients have used the Pegasus spyware to mark targets, including ten prime ministers, three presidents, and a king. The forensic analysis of 37 phones confirmed fingerprints of the Pegasus spyware.
What is Pegasus Spyware and Why is it Dangerous?
A spyware is a type of malware that collects information about the user’s activity and sends it back to the attacker. The strength of a spyware is directly proportional to its intrusiveness. The more activity it can read without detection, the more powerful it is considered.
Pegasus sneaks into your device without your notice and can do a lot of nasty things. It can spy through the phone’s camera and microphone, use the GPS to track your position, keep track of your movement, steal your photos and videos, and read your texts. It enables 24/7 surveillance on your device, giving a frightening level of insight into everyday activities.
It is unlikely that the average citizen has to worry about being infected by the spyware, but the threat is out there. If you are an advocate of truth tomorrow, you may find yourself on the list of people of interest.
How Does Pegasus Spyware Infect a Device?
Malware is typically distributed through phishing links, which is a clever social engineering technique designed to trick you. It could be an email impersonating anyone you know with a link or attachment asking for a certain action. Once you click on the link or download the attachment, the malware finds a way onto your device and infects it.
Pegasus spyware is not new. While it may have been delivered through social engineering techniques before, the newest approach is what researchers call a “zero-click” exploit. As the name implies, it requires no action from the user. It can infiltrate your device possibly through an unknown vulnerability, also known as Zero-Day vulnerability. The Pegasus spyware can be delivered via something as simple as an iMessage text.
According to Amnesty International’s forensics, one of the attacks exploited multiple zero-day attacks on an iPhone 12 running iOS 14.6 in July 2021.
Pegasus spyware is a reminder of how technology enables governments worldwide to spy on anyone and get away with it. In the United States, Internet Service Providers (ISP) are legally bound to log every activity of their users. Whether you are opening a YouTube video or communicating with a friend on Facebook, your ISP can see everything.
We recommend using FastestVPN to hide the activities by using powerful encryption. It’s not just your activities, a VPN provides security on Wi-Fi against potential Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) attacks.