There have been many accounts of spyware being used against unsuspecting citizens over the past few years. While these programs are a concern to all internet users, Pegasus seems to be taking up the ranks in terms of its notoriety.
The recent spyware scandal where Pegasus infected Android devices and iPhones triggered an outrage in the tech community. The scandal was uncovered after teams of researchers discovered that NSO Group, an Israeli cyber arms firm, had created the Pegasus spyware which is capable of stealing sensitive information from any smartphone- even those running secure operating systems like Apple’s iOS. It can be used as a RAT (remote access tool), just like any other hacking tool.
This sophisticated piece of spyware is marketed as “lawful interception” software to governments and law enforcement agencies around the world. It was developed by the NSO Group, which claims that their software targets criminals and terrorists. But once it is in place, with the flip of a switch, the tool can be used to target political dissidents, journalists, human rights campaigners or anyone else who might anger those in power. It can grab everything from photographs off your phone’s camera roll to Facebook chats.
It can siphon personal data, including audio, that can be used to blackmail or for identity theft. When mobile devices are infected with Pegasus spyware, the threat actor can remotely read and record SMS messages, emails, instant messages, and audio. They can also log keystrokes. Pegasus has been spreading through WhatsApp among other communication apps.
The Israeli NSO Group specializes in developing cutting edge technology that is used to fight crime, track down terrorists and drug lords. They sell their products predominantly to vetted governments worldwide. However, a leak of 50,000 NSO targets has exposed the dirty secrets of these governments. The leak shows that the tools are being misused by governments and companies to target journalists, activists, judges and other civil society figures.
The Snooping scandal took a new dimension with the revelation that Indian agencies are indulging in mass surveillance and spying of phones. A sense of security is important; there’s no one else but us to protect our rights, and those rights include a sense of security. The potential misuse of Pegasus to hack into people’s lives, listen in on their private conversations, and then use that information against them in the hope of gaining undue advantage is a serious violation of the law.
In India, the problems of lawlessness, arbitrariness and unbridled power of the executive have often been diagnosed, with little or no impact. The latest snooping scandal revealed is a case in point. The illegality and criminality of our intelligence agencies operating without any legal basis have been underscored.
If reports in the Indian media are to be believed, the world is one giant step closer to better understanding how a spying scandal can affect a nation. It’s been nearly a week since news broke out about the Indian government acquiring the infamous Pegasus software from Israel to target its citizens. Since the leaks of emails and documents reveal that the Government of India may have used the malware, it is time to consider what this means for the Indian state’s surveillance practices.
Moreover, a leaked list of 40 Indian journalists’ phone numbers was snooped upon by an unidentified agency using “Pegasus” software. It was also used to target over a thousand phone numbers in India which may have included ministers, government officials and opposition leaders in India.
With so many technological advancements, the boundaries of privacy and secrecy have shifted greatly from where they were before. The Indian government’s much-hyped initiative of creating a world-class electronic surveillance network is fast heading towards trouble. Unless the Central government puts an end to it immediately, it may soon find itself in the dock for committing grave crimes under Indian laws.
A nation of laws and not men, it is on paper at least. But what happens when the law decides to take over privacy, liberty and freedom? What happens when the right bellowing in your ears is security and safety – an illusion of a false sense of comfort. A nation conditioned to fear itself has lost its voice.
The Central government’s claims that it is not aware of the misuse of the invasive software, Pegasus, defy facts and logic. Media investigations have established that an array of Indian agencies use the controversial malware to spy on Indian citizens. This is not one but many kinds of snooping scandals in India who are tapping our mobile phone calls or email messages and other many unconstitutional things by cell phone spy equipment. It is the most alarming and shocking revelation in the history of digital security.