Pegasus Project: Governments Spying Citizens With Israeli Spyware
An international collaboration known as the “Pegasus Project” by news and human rights organizations has alleged that multiple governments across the world hired an Israeli surveillance technology firm NSO to hack into the phones of their critics. The Pegasus Project has brought to light the shallow side of states that indulge in violating the sanctity of human privacy. The details recently unearthed regarding the Pegasus Project reveal that snooping, eavesdropping, cyberespionage or reconnaissance have become the new reality of the world, wherein the people are being observed secretively.
However the NSO Group, which sells the Pegasus spyware, refutes all accusations of wrongdoing and says its clients are legitimate governments and intelligence agencies who use its technology to tackle terrorism and serious crime. On the other hand, the military-grade spyware leased by the Israeli firm to governments was used in attempted successful hacks of journalists, human rights activists, business executives and any citizen who was found critical of the regime, according to an investigation by the Washington Post and 16 media partners led by the Paris-based nonprofit organization, Forbidden Stories.
Pegasus Project reveals that human privacy is at stakes.
Regretting is the fact that the people have been unaware of the military grade spyware that targets, infects and tracks, thereby crushing their constitutional rights in a free world. Reports from the project showed that details on hundreds of rights activists, lawyers, journalists, dissidents, political leaders, officials and others were potentially compromised due to NSO’s Pegasus software. Pegasus spyware captures and copies the phone’s most basic functions, NSO marketing materials show, recording from the cameras and microphone and collecting location data, call logs and contacts. The implant secretly reports that information to an operative who can use it to map out sensitive details of the victim’s life.
The sheer naked brutal intrusion into privacy of citizens was exposed by the Pegasus Project in a collaborative investigation that involved more than 80 journalists from 17 news organizations coordinated by Forbidden Stories with the technical support of Amnesty International’s Security Lab.
Analysis reveals that Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International had access to a list of more than 50,000 numbers and shared it with the news organizations, which did further research and analysis. Amnesty’s Security Lab did forensic examination of the phones which took months-long collaborative investigation by the Washington Post and 16 media partners in 10 countries. The Pegasus Project has identified the NSO clients – 10 governments from India, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Hungary and the United Arab Emirates. Amnesty International confirmed the hacking of 23 out of 67 phones subjected to technical analysis, with 14 others showing signs of attempted penetration.
Citizen Lab, a research group at the University of Toronto that specializes in studying Pegasus, has found evidence that Modi’s Hindutva Government in India, client of NSO, used the spyware against dissidents. The research suggests, “Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government used Israeli hacking software to spy on the mobile phones of its opponents.” The spyware that infiltrated seven of the analyzed phones – Pegasus – secretly unlocks the contents of a target’s mobile phone and transforms it into a listening device. As per sources, mobile phone of Indian opposition stalwart Rahul Gandhi was infiltrated as well.
Modi’s spyware: The Indian government hacked the data of journalists, lawyers, and actors while also tracing those who raised their voices for the lower class. The American newspaper has confirmed the identities of more than 300 Indians involved in hacking.
We in Pakistan unfortunately have been victims of espionage since ages, well before Pegasus tapped into our Prime Minister’s personal phone. Between 2004 and 2018 in the northwest Pakistan especially the tribal areas, we were monitored and bombarded by the deadly drones. While back home, it’s rumoured that Pakistan is developing panacea for Pegasus – developing a special application to prevent hacking of the phones – but do we have a solution for what happened during the drone espionage?
As we in Pakistan need to jog our short term memories, we have been target of reconnaissance since long. In the year 2011, Raymond Davis’s phone and GPS device indicated that he had been galavanting all across Pakistan especially some areas in the tribal belt of our country that had been the target of drone attacks by the US – bringing death and destruction, massacring of innocent children and women. These drone strikes were termed by Amnesty International as war crimes. But we let a widow commit suicide with an overdose of pills, as our legal system succumbed to its weaknesses and Raymond Davis – murderer of two Pakistani citizens – wriggled out.
Historically speaking, our history is replete with examples amplifying the fact that our actions have spoken louder than words when it comes to keeping a tab on our assets, and protecting our national interest. Pegasus is not a match to our skills and crafts as was evident in may 2011 during Operation Neptune Spear when Cairo (military working dog – the only non-human US soldier to raid Osama bin Laden’s compound) landed in pitch darkness yet all of us couldn’t shrug our endless slumber!
Policy makers in Pakistan should indulge in serious brainstorming, developing policies for cyber protection of citizens and highest ranking officials alike. I wish we could indulge in Pigeon post, homing pigeons to realise the true spirit of change in Pakistan.
One thing that has has been brought to light once again is sheer neglect of basic human liberties as far as the sham Indian democracy is concerned under the camouflage of Hindutva which has led to the erosion of civil liberties in India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.