Pegasus spyware was reportedly used to spy on Indians. In 2019, WhatsApp brought the matter to light when it sued Israeli spyware maker NSO Group for its Pegasus spyware that was allegedly used to snoop on journalists, activists, lawyers and senior government officials in 20 countries around the world, including India, in May 2019.
WhatsApp revealed that it has contacted several Indian users who are believed to be the targets of illegal snooping using the Pegasus spyware.
What is Pegasus spyware?
Pegasus is a spyware developed by NSO Group, an Israeli company that specialises in what experts call cyber weapons. Pegasus made headlines in 2016 when it was revealed that it unsuccessfully attempted an attack on the device of UAE human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor. He received text messages on his iPhone promising 'new secrets' about tortured prisoners in the country if he opened a link in the SMS. Instead of following the instructions, Mansoor sent the messages to researchers at Citizen Lab, who traced the origin of the links back to infrastructure belonging to the NSO Group.
It was believed that Pegasus was targeting iPhone users. Several days after its discovery Apple released an updated version of iOS, which reportedly patched the security loophole that Pegasus was using to hack phones.
In the case of WhatsApp, Pegasus has said to have used a vulnerability in WhatsApp VoIP stack that is used to place video and audio calls. Just a missed call on WhatsApp allowed Pegasus to gain access to the target's device.
Pegasus has been around since 2016 and it was also believed to have been used to target Indians earlier as well. The Citizen Lab notes that Pegasus has used other ways in the past to infiltrate a target's device, like getting the target to click on a link using social engineering or using fake package notifications to deploy the spyware.
This part of Pegasus hacking into phones is one reason why this spyware is so highly rated by those who use it. The phone hacking is almost seamless and the phone user has no clue that their device has been compromised.
Pegasus is a versatile piece of spyware and as soon as it is installed on a target's device, it starts contacting control servers, which can then relay commands to gather data from the infected device.
Pegasus can steal information like passwords, contacts, text messages, calendar details, and even the voice calls made using messaging apps. Further, it can also snoop using the phone's camera and microphone as well as use the GPS to track live location. Even encrypted chats like the ones made through WhatsApp were accessible to Pegasus.