'Pegasus' spyware is one of the most sophisticated hacking tools that is capable of extracting any information from mobile phones that use iOS and Android softwares.
The military-grade spyware is developed by Israeli firm NSO Group, also known as Q Cyber Technologies. Reports suggest that it can be used to record calls, read text messages or even film people using the in-built camaras on the phones.
The spyware can potentially make smartphones become 24-hour surveillance devices. It has the ability to evade most forensic analysis and also bypass antivirus softwares, which makes the spyware a dangerous tool, be it in the right hands or wrong.
Pegasus gets inside a targeted phone through malicious links, which if clicked, gets quietly installed. After that, all private data like passwords, texts, calls and emails can be monitored.
Pegasus was last heard about in 2019 when some journalists and activists alleged that they had received messages in WhatsApp telling that their phones were compromised by Pegasus. It however faded due to many reports of phones being hacked every few months.
On Sunday, reports of Pegasus exploded worldwide with a number of prominent news organisations publishing details of the global surveillance software that reportedly target journalists (over 40 journalists in India), political figures, activists and other public figures.
Pegasus is marketed and licensed to governments around the world. Multiple reports state that over 10 governments, including India, are using the spyware.
Meanwhile, the Indian government told The Guardian that these reports are "fishing expedition, based on conjectures and exaggerations to malign the Indian democracy and its institutions."
On the other hand, NSO Group said in a statement that it is an attempt to discredit the company on false grounds.
"NSO does not operate the systems that it sells to vetted government customers, and does not have access to the data of its customers' targets," it told The Guardian.
The company also said that it sells the tools only to governments and is not responsible for its misuse.
In 2019, Facebook filed a case against NSO Group for creating the spyware. Security researchers at Facebook found that the software was used to monitor several journalists and activists in India. This was also the time when WhatsApp told the affected Indian users about it through a message.
Now, the real question – should we be worried about it?
The spyware is useless with phones that have the latest version of key apps like WhatsApp or Facebook as they are now patched. This goes for iOS version and Android version on a smartphone. If they are updated, we may not worry about the spyware.
However, no phone or computer is hack-proof. Softwares like Pegasus uses security loopholes in phones, computers, apps to get inside. These loopholes are sometimes overlooked by companies like Google, Apple, Facebook etc – that is what these softwares take advantage of.
It is also possible that Pegasus spyware could get updated by NSO Group, something which we cant realy ascertain.
Moreover, these spyware apps are very expensive. So unless any big organization or the government feels the need to put you under surveillance, you shouldn't worry about it.
It is however noteworthy that nobody has the right to snoop on another individual without the former's consent. If Pegasus is used by a government to spy on their opposition leaders, journalists, and other prominent figures for their own agenda or political advantage, democracy is definitely in danger.