Pegasus Spyware

Pegasus Spyware: NSO Group Reacts to Allegations, Indian Government Rubbishes Report

Pegasus spyware has allegedly been used by authoritarian governments to spy on human rights activists, journalists and lawyers worldwide

Pegasus spyware has been widely misused by various authoritarian governments to spy on human rights activists, journalists, and lawyers across the world says a report by seventeen news media organisations including French media nonprofit, Forbidden Stories, and Amnesty International. The report is based on an investigation of a leak of over 50,000 phone numbers that are believed to have been identified as those of people of interest by clients of NSO since 2016.

The report also implies that the Pegasus spyware may have been used to spy on nearly 300 Indians as well including two present cabinet ministers, 40 journalists, few leaders of the opposition, and other figures of prominence in India. The list was initially available to Paris-based media nonprofit organisation Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International, who shared it as part of reporting consortium “the Pegasus project”.

What Is Pegasus Spyware?

Pegasus spyware is basically a software, which has been developed by an Israeli technology firm called NSO Group Technologies, that can be installed easily on mobile phones including a few versions of Apple’s iOS and Android. The spyware is named after the mythical winged horse Pegasus. The creators of the software maintain that they provide the technology to only authorized governments to help them combat terror, pedophilia rings, sex and drug-trafficking rings, locate missing and kidnapped children, and so on.

Has Pegasus Spyware Been Reported About in the Past?

Similar allegations have been made on the software in the past as well. Towards the end of 2019, Facebook initiated a suit against NSO, claiming that Pegasus had been used to intercept the WhatsApp communications of a number of activists, journalists, and bureaucrats in India, leading to accusations that the Indian government was involved. The social media giant had claimed that phone numbers of Indian ministers, opposition leaders and journalists had been found on the database of hacking targets using the Israeli Pegasus Spyware.

Press Club of India Condemns Incident

The Press Club of India has condemned the incident and has requested the Government of India to come clean on it. “This is the first time in the history of this country that all pillars of our democracy — judiciary, Parliamentarians, media, executives and ministers — have been spied upon. This is unprecedented and the PCI condemns unequivocally. The snooping has been done for ulterior motives,” tweeted PCI.

“What is disturbing is that a foreign agency, which has nothing to do with the national interest of the country, was engaged to spy on its citizens. This breeds distrust and will invite anarchy. The Govt should come out clean on this front and clarify,” added the Club.

Government of India Clarifies

The Government of India has rubbished the claims made in the report and has clarified that similar allegations have been made in the past as well. “In the past, similar claims were made regarding the use of Pegasus on WhatsApp by the Indian state. Those reports had no factual basis and were categorically denied by all parties, including WhatsApp, in the Indian Supreme Court,” reads a statement from the Government of India. The Government of India has also stated that the allegations regarding the government surveillance on specific people has no concrete basis or truth associated with it whatsoever.

NSO Group Calls Report “Full of Wrong Assumptions and Uncorroborated Theories”

The NSO Group has issued a statement saying the report by Forbidden Stories was “full of wrong assumptions and uncorroborated theories that raise serious doubts about the reliability and interests of the sources”. It seems like the “unidentified sources” have supplied information that has no factual basis and are far from reality, adds NSO.

“After checking their claims, we firmly deny the false allegations made in their report. Their sources have supplied them with information that has no factual basis, as evident by the lack of supporting documentation for many of their claims. In fact, these allegations are so outrageous and far from reality, that NSO is considering a defamation lawsuit. NSO Group has a good reason to believe the claims that are made by the unnamed sources to Forbidden Stories, are based on a misleading interpretation of data from accessible and overt basic information, such as HLR Lookup services, which have no bearing on the list of the customers targets of Pegasus or any other NSO products. Such services are openly available to anyone, anywhere, and anytime, and are commonly used by governmental agencies for numerous purposes, as well as by private companies worldwide. The claims that the data was leaked from our servers, is a complete lie and ridiculous since such data never existed on any of our servers,” says NSO.

The firm also reiterates that Pegasus is only being used to break up pedophilia rings, sex and drug-trafficking rings, locate missing and kidnapped children, locate survivors trapped under collapsed buildings, and protect airspace against disruptive penetration by dangerous drones. “We would like to emphasize that NSO sells it technologies solely to law enforcement and intelligence agencies of vetted governments for the sole purpose of saving lives through preventing crime and terror acts. NSO does not operate the system and has no visibility to the data,” adds the firm.

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