21 JULY 2021
The Cyber Intelligence Spyware – PEGASUS /
NSO Group, an Israeli Cyber Intelligence firm accused of supplying spyware Pegasus to the governments of various countries denied that “the Report by Forbidden Stories” is full of wrong assumptions and “all allegations are false”.
“Their sources have supplied them with information which has no factual basis, as evident by the lack of supporting documentation for many of their claims”.
“NSO sells its technologies solely to law enforcement and intelligence agencies of vetted governments for the sole purpose of saving lives through preventing crime and terror acts”, NSO Group said.
On Sunday, 18 July 2021, through a consortium of international media organisations including The Washington Post and The Guardian revealed that thousands of smart phones of journalists, business executives and politicians around the world were hacked.
The forensic analysis of 37 of the smart phones on the list showed that there had been “attempted and successful” hacks and the devices were surveilled.
The list included more than 50000 people all over 50 countries including many journalists of Agence France-Presse, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, The New York Times, the Associated Press and The Economist.
Phone numbers of several heads of governments and former Prime Ministers were also targeted, according to the reports released.
The software, Pegasus can be used to infiltrate smartphones and turn into a surveillance device by a simple missed WhatsApp call. It can also be installed manually on a device and will alter call logs so that the user has no knowledge of the spyware. The software can automatically turn on the camera and microphone and see chats, contacts, record speech, read messages and e-mails.
To be safe, all apps are to be updated or installed directly through the official stores and suspicious emails, sms should not be clicked.
The UN Human Rights Chief, Michelle Bachelet in a press release said that the apparent widespread use of Pegasus spy software to illegally undermine the rights of those under surveillance, including journalists and politicians, was extremely alarming and confirmed some of the worst fears surrounding the potential misuse of such technology.
“Governments should not only immediately stop using surveillance technologies in ways that violate human rights, but also “take concrete actions” to protect against such invasions of privacy by regulating the distribution, use and export of surveillance technology created by others”, the UN Human Rights High Commissioner said.
The US administration has also condemned the harassment and ‘extra judicial surveillance’ of journalists and others all over the world, including in India.
“China and Russia were “protecting” and even “accomodating” cyber hackers and their hacking”, US President Joe Biden said.
Also in India, allegations were raised on hacking of smart phones of many journalists, politicians and prominent persons.
Opposition parties demanded an independent investigation into the alleged use of Pegasus software for surveilling politicians, ministers, journalists and other persons.
“Only governments have Pegasus. If our government has used it, it is certainly illegal…… And if it is not our government’s work, then it is even more serious since it is a breach of our national security,”
Congress leader Shashi Tharoor tweeted.
The information Technology (IT) and Communications Minister Ashwini Vaishnav clarified in the Loksabha on 19 July 2021 that illegal surveillance was not possible in India.
“The reports about Pegasus being used to illegally tap phones was ‘an attempt to malign’ the Indian democracy. There was no factual basis to the reports, as multiple checks and balances in India did not allow any unauthorised person to snoop on people”.
Meanwhile the Standing Committee on Information Technology will deliberate on the use of Pegasus in India on 28 July 2021.
Surveillance impacts the right to privacy and freedom of speech and personal liberty enshrined in Article 19 and 21 of our Constitution.