Project Pegasus Explained: Everything You Need To Know Part-1

What is Pegasus Project?

On the 19th of July this year Amnesty International, Forbidden stories, The Wire of India, and 16 other media organizations of the world published a combined investigative report named the ‘Pegasus Project’.

Allegations claimed that a list of 50000 numbers was leaked. Apparently, these numbers of the list belong to people who are potential targets. However, using Pegasus Spyware made by the NSO group of Israel, they are monitoring their phones and the data.     

What is Pegasus?

Pegasus is military-grade spyware. An Israeli software company NSO Group made this. You can fit the spyware on any device. The devices include phones, PC, laptops, and tablets. The spyware is installable regardless of the operating system used on the device. Once installed, this software will collect records and transmit data and other information stored on the device to the Hacker. As per the NSO Group, it is a license-based software that they sell to only internationally vetted and recognized governments.     

The spyware can steal information like passwords, contacts, location of the phone, messages, voice calls, video calls, and even calendar details of the target. Manipulation of the data on the phone is easy with this. Like deleting messages, using the mic to hear conversations, and using the camera to capture video. As per the NSO group, the software is designed as a weapon of counter-terrorism. And to stop crime.

How it captures the device?

The military-grade uses ‘0-day vulnerabilities’ of the operating system of the targeted device. Gone are the days where you had to click a link through which the spyware got downloaded on your device. This software is one step further. It can be transferred with no interaction of the target. This software can reach to you by anything. Like a missed call, a simple I message, and even an un-attended video call or voice call.    

What are ‘0-day vulnerabilities’

As the name suggests 0-day vulnerabilities are problems and bugs in the operating system of the device. That came into light lately and the manufacturers. So it is either the manufacturer is not aware of the bug or has not been able to tackle it yet.

What if I use a different set of apps or operating systems?

Practically all the operating systems and apps are vulnerable. Apps like WhatsApp and telegram which have the feature of end-to-end encryption are also useless. The reason being, the spyware targets the device and not the data or app of the user. It is like someone who has a second fingerprint installed on your phone.

Also, Read:-Pegasus used on journalists from a website that broke Rafale probe story: Chidambaram

Other Apps are also not safe

What is the Project Pegasus controversy?

The whole controversy of Project Pegasus revolves around the breach of privacy of citizens. Ergo, they are using a tool. The purpose of this tool is to tackle crime and terrorism. That too by the governments.

In India, infiltrating phones or other devices using such methods is punishable under Technology Act 2000. The government can use these methods if the case is related to national and international security.

Has this happened before?

It is not the first time that people have blamed the government for tracking their citizens or citizens of the world. Edward Snowden a world-known whistle-blower gained the spotlight when he provided The Guardian (An International Newspaper) with documents. It consisted of 160,000 intercepted email and instant message conversations and 7,900 documents from more than 11,000 online accounts. It also included 900,000 Department of Défense files, 15,000 or more Australian intelligence files, and 58,000 British intelligence files. All these proved that various agencies were spying on citizens.

Other than this he also provided details of a global surveillance apparatus run by the NSA in cooperation with three of its Five Eye partners – Australia’s ASD, the UK’s GVHQ, and Canada’s CSEC. Reports also gave details of Tempora, a British black-ops surveillance program run by GCHQ.

He also proved that Verizon (a telephone network company) had handed the NSA millions of American’s phone records daily. He also gave the documents related to the surveillance of French citizen’s phone and Internet records. These belonged to high-profile individuals from the world of business or politics.

Another activist and whistle-blower Julian Assange in 2010 November gave pieces of evidence of Cablegate. They were a collection of more than 250,000 US diplomatic cables (communications on the safe lines some of which were published in the Guardian and elsewhere). Dated between December 1966 and February 2010, the cables contained diplomatic analysis from world leaders, and the diplomats’ assessment of host countries and their officials.

The cables also included diplomatic cables, official records, campaign emails, and documents detailing government hacking tools. In some cases, news outlets re-promoted documents obtained by Wikileaks, such as when The New York Times created an archive of US diplomatic cables in 2010.

Number traced in Project Pegasus?

As reported by The Guardian that the analysis of the list has confirmed. That the Project Pegasus list contains 50000 mobile phone numbers. From Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Hungary, India, UAE, and others.

The Guardian reported the list of numbers from:-

Mexico- Around 15000 phone numbers

Morocco- Around 10000 phone numbers

UAE- Around 10000 phone numbers

Algeria- More than 6000 phone numbers

France- More than 1000 phone numbers

Turkey- Around 500 phone numbers 

In total there are around 50 countries that are allegedly blamed for the tracking act. The people that are being tracked are significant people from all over the world. Like many people from the Arab Royal Family, 65 personalities related to business, at least 85 human rights activists, around 200 significant journalists, and 600 people from the field of politics.

The people from politics include Cabinet ministers, diplomats, military officers, and several heads of the states and even prime ministers of countries are on the list and people who are their aides or related to them. Among the journalists are reporters working for media organizations like CNN, Voice Of America, New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Associated Press, BBC, Bloomberg News, The Financial Times (of London), and Al Jazeera.

Also Read:-Project Pegasus Explained: Everything You Need To Know Part-2

People in India targeted in the Project Pegasus Controversy

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