India first came to know of Pegasus when WhatsApp alleged in a Californian court in San Francisco,USA that the Israeli Group had targeted some 1400 plus users with Pegasus. This happened in May 2019.
Before this a human rights activist in the UAE was targeted with an SMS link on his iPhone6. The Pegasus tool at that time exploited a software chink in Apple’s IoS. A click and you could become the next victim of Pegasus.
While WhatsApp declined to reveal the identities and “exact number” of those targeted for surveillance in India, it did confirm that WhatsApp had contacted each one of those targeted and had informed them. The Indian Express was the first newspaper in India to report on this.
The Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto, Canada helped WhatsApp with the investigation into the cyber-attack.
Pegasus is the flagship spyware of Israel-based NSO Group. It is believed to be known by other names as well, like Q Suite and Trident. Pegasus reportedly has the ability to infiltrate both Android and iOS devices and it uses a number of ways to hack into a target’s mobile devices, including using zero-day exploits.
The Citizen Lab has categorically said that Pegasus could have been used in the past also on Symbian phones. Their earlier versions would not have been as updated as there are now but the Research Laboratory has reportedly said that it could have been possible that people could have been targeted on their Blackberries also by Pegasus in India before 2016.
India is WhatsApp’s biggest market with over 40 crore people using it. WhatsApp was used to spy on journalists, political dissidents, industrialists, supreme court judges and human rights activists in India.
Here are some more details:
- WhatsApp sued the NSO Group in a federal court in San Francisco accusing it of using WhatsApp servers in the United States and elsewhere “to send malware to approximately 1,400 mobile phones and devices (‘Target Devices’)… for the purpose of conducting surveillance of specific WhatsApp users (‘Target Users’)”.
- The surveillance was carried out “between in and around April 2019 and May 2019” on users in 20 countries across four continents, WhatsApp said in its complaint.
- WhatsApp head Will Cathcart wrote in The Washington Post that the surveillance “targeted at least 100 human-rights defenders, journalists and other members of civil society across the world”. He underlined that “tools that enable surveillance into our private lives are being abused, and the proliferation of this technology into the hands of irresponsible companies and governments puts us all at risk”.
- WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, is the world’s most popular messaging app, with more than 1.5 billion users worldwide. About a quarter of those users — more than 400 million, or 40 crore — are in India, WhatsApp’s biggest market.
- The NSO Group is a Tel Aviv-based cybersecurity company that specializes in “surveillance technology” and claims to help governments and law enforcement agencies across the world fight crime and terrorism.