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What is Pegasus Spyware? How has it affected Indian political leaders?


In July, a few weeks back, there was an outrage in India about some of the users being targeted by a spyware called Pegasus. Phone numbers of many Indian activists and political leaders were on the surveillance list of this spyware.

This created havoc among the people as it could be a potential threat to the nation and the Indian Government. In response to this, IT minister Ashwini Vaishnaw replied, denying all the facts regarding the involvement of the Government.

Let us know more about this situation in detail.

Pegasus Spyware: All You Need to Know

Pegasus is the name of the spyware, which the NSO group develops. It is an Israel-based company that develops cyber weapons. This spyware came into existence back in 2016, when an Arab activist received a suspicious message.

People thought that Pegasus affected only iPhones at that time. But later on, it was discovered that Android phones are vulnerable. After this, Apple fixed the loophole in their iOS, which led Pegasus to infiltrate the phone and access its information.

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Again in 2019, Facebook also found this spyware. They filed a case against NSO Group for creating this spyware. It was discovered when researchers at Facebook tracked the group’s files. The spyware was used for hacking phones of many activists and journalists from India. Later on, it was WhatsApp which informed their users to be aware of this spyware.

Pegasus’ motto is ”Hacking” and not ”authorised interception” or ”tapping”. And we all know that hacking is a crime, whether committed by any individual or any government.

How does it work?

This spyware has a very simple model of infection. It simply hacks a device by sending malicious links to the users. And if it gets clicked unintentionally, you end up having the spyware running on your system.

What’s more serious is that it is highly sophisticated and deep-rooted spyware. The user doesn’t really get know that something has been installed on their device.

Other modes of infection include audio messages, security bugs, or even missed calls also. It is so much advanced that the user doesn’t even get to know about the missed call. The call info is deleted before they could figure out something.

What can it potentially do?

It is highly potent spyware that can do “Everything”. Once installed on the device, it can hear all your calls, even the encrypted ones; Facebook, WhatsApp messages and calls. It has access to all the real-time calls, messages, internet and everything present on the device.

Pegasus spyware is modular. After it gains the system’s access, it downloads various other modules required for accessing various other data. They include emails, listening to the calls, text messages, and even checking the pictures on the device.

How this spyware caused havoc in the Indian Political System?

Some forensic analysis were carried out by Amnesty International. This analysis confirmed that over 50,000 phone numbers were the potential targets of this Pegasus spyware. Around 300 of these numbers were of some Indian journalists, government officials, opposition party leaders and many activists.

This investigation was a joint global collaboration between news networks worldwide. Some known and popular ones like Washington Post, Le Monde, and many more were a part of this investigation.

Through this investigation, 50,000 contact numbers were found on the surveillance list. It included people from countries like India, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Mexico, Hungary and many more.

Among these 50,000 phone numbers, 300 mobile numbers were related to India. Some of them were senior journalists from big organizations like Hindustan Times, the Hindu, Indian Express and many more.

Other numbers were of political leaders, opposition party leaders, cabinet ministers and even Supreme Court judges.

Soon people discovered that they had been trapped in the malicious acts of the Pegasus Spyware. This news created a havoc among the people and demanded justification from the Indian Government. 

It was due to that, NSO Group, the developer of Pegasus Spyware, said that “it sells the malware only to governmental agencies”.

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Related Video: What is Pegasus Spyware and how does it use zero-click vulnerability?

Was the Indian Government involved in this scenario?

The majority of the journalists are targeted by this spyware, in some other ways who are related to the government activities. Mostly they were those involved in critical investigative stories related to the Government or close to the Government. However, the Indian Government has denied all the facts of their involvement.

Further, they clarified this matter through the news agency, ANI. They said, “that there has been no unauthorized interception by government agencies”.

Also, IT minister Ashwini Vaishnaw refuted all the stories and facts about the use of Pegasus spyware. He said that there is a due process of law that has to be followed for intercepting communications.

But, he did not clarify whether the Indian Government has access to Pegasus or not. For your information, a single license of Pegasus costs nearly $7-8 million dollars per year. It can track up to 50 devices at a time.

Who can plant the Pegasus Spyware?

As said by NSO, they only sell this malware to government agencies and authorized law enforcement and intelligence agencies. Names of the companies are unknown, as NSO doesn’t disclose the names of their clients.

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So, this was an in-depth coverage of the Pegasus spyware outrage in India. It was something of great concern. Nothing has been known about the root of the cause, but the investigation is in the process.

That’s all for now. Till then, stay safe and aware.


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