In the starry sky, the constellation Pegasus also known by the international Latin name of Pegasus can make you dream, but the other Pegasus, the one that serves as the name of the dreaded spyware of the Israeli firm NSO, gives nightmares.
Nightmares of invasion of the private and professional life of journalists and politicians because of an indecipherable software (spyware) which spies on the communications of the Android and iOS phones of the targeted persons.
50,000 phones spied on
From a list of more than 50,000 mobile phone numbers obtained by the Parisian journalistic association Forbidden Stories and the human rights group Amnesty International and shared with 16 news organizations, reporters were able to identify more than 1,000 individuals in 50 countries allegedly selected by NSO clients for potential surveillance.
We are not talking here about a malicious program or virus that spreads in the computers of a company or in the general public, but of a precise targeting by rogue states or not of the smartphones of its journalists, activists and opponents from all over the world. A license for Pegasus costs tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars, huge sums that only states or security and intelligence agencies can afford.
On its website, ” NSO Group creates technology that helps government agencies prevent and investigate terrorism and crime in order to save thousands of lives around the world ”.
The most dreaded spyware ever
The worst part is that the trapped person is unable to know whether their phone is tapped or not, and Pegasus’ infiltration into it does not require any active action from its owner. In the jargon, this is called a zero-click exploit.
On the page Wiki dedicated to Pegasus, “Pegasus was discovered in August 2016 after a failed attempt to install it on an iPhone owned by a human rights activist led to an investigation revealing details of the spyware, its capabilities and security holes it exploited. In 2016, Pegasus was able to read text messages, track calls, collect passwords, track location, access the target device’s microphone and camera, and gather information from apps. In short, the total!
Even though its owner uses encrypted messaging, such as WhatsApp or Telegram, Pegasus retransmits every snippet of conversation to spies using a dedicated home network for anonymous PATN transmission.
According to the famous whistleblower, Edward Snowdon who reacted today to the news, “if nothing is done to stop the sale of this technology, it will not be 50,000, but 50 million targets that will be spied on and that will arrive faster than you think ”.
Pegasus manages to exploit not one, but several computer security holes in a system.
According to The Guardian, in 2019, WhatsApp revealed that NSO’s software had been used to send malware to more than 1,400 phones by exploiting a zero-day vulnerability. It was enough to make a WhatsApp call to a target device and Pegasus malicious code was installed on the phone even though the target never answered the call. More recently, NSO began exploiting vulnerabilities in Apple’s iMessage software, which gave it backdoor access to hundreds of millions of iPhones. Apple says it continually updates its software to prevent such attacks.
Able to self-destruct
NSO’s spyware is also able, on remote control, to erase itself in the device if it fails to communicate with its server for more than 60 days, can we read on its page Wikipedia.
The researchers Security suspect the newer versions of Pegasus to inhabit only the phone’s RAM, not its storage, which means that once the phone is turned off, virtually all traces of the software are gone. If so, turning off your phone completely would be an easy way and make Pegasus disappear.
By email, head of security engineering and architecture, Ivan Krstić, wrote, “Apple unequivocally condemns cyberattacks against journalists, human rights activists and others who seek to make the world better. For more than a decade, Apple has been at the forefront of innovation in security, and therefore security researchers agree that the iPhone is the most secure consumer mobile device on the market. Attacks like the ones described are very sophisticated, costing millions of dollars to develop, often have a short lifespan, and are used to target specific people. While this means that they do not pose a threat to the overwhelming majority of our users, we continue to work tirelessly to defend all of our customers, and we are constantly adding new protections for their devices and data ”.
End of 2019, Facebook filed a lawsuit against NSO, claiming that Pegasus had been used to intercept the WhatsApp communications of a number of activists, journalists and bureaucrats in India, which led to accusations that the Indian government was involved .
To see, the video (5 min) published today of the newspaper The Guardian on the threat Pegasus poses to democracy.
And Edward Snowdon’s most recent reaction to government abuse of Pegasus spyware.