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Explained: What is Pegasus spyware, how it works, should you worry?

Pegasus, a spyware developed by an Israeli company hit the headlines, after a report by The Wire that claimed phone numbers of Indian ministers, leaders and journalists were found on a database that was for hacking.

Pegasus hit the headlines after a number of prominent news websites, including the Guardian and the Washington Post, published details of what they called global surveillance operations using Pegasus.

A report by The Wire claimed the surveillance reportedly targets journalists, including over 40 journalists in India, activists and other key public figures.

The reports say that over 10 governments, including India, are involved in surveillance of people using Pegasus spyware.

The Indian govt in a statement rubbished any involvement saying it was "fishing expedition, based on conjectures and exaggerations to malign the Indian democracy and its institutions."

What is Pegasus and what does it do?

Pegasus is a spyware developed by the Israeli firm NSO. They claim they sell the software to governments and law enforcement agencies around the world who reportedly use this spyware to prevent crime. But the Pegasus spyware can be used to hack into smartphones and scoop details of WhatsApp chats.

How does Pegasus hack a phone?

Pegasus hacking into phones is so seamless that the user almost has no clue that their device has been compromised. Once a hacker identifies a phone that needs to hacked into, they send the targeted user a malicious website link, and if the user clicks on it, Pegasus is installed on the phone.

It is also installed through a security bug in voice calls made through apps like WhatsApp. Pegasus could be installed on the phone just by giving a missed call to the user. Once, the software was installed, it would delete the call log entry so that the user wouldn't know about the missed call.


How dangerous is Pegasus?

Once Pegasus is on a phone, it can potentially spy on the targeted user completely and thoroughly. Even encrypted chats like the ones made through WhatsApp were accessible to Pegasus. Security researchers have found that Pegasus can read messages, track calls, track user activity within apps, gather location data, access video cameras in a phone, or listen through their microphones.

Should you worry about Pegasus?

When details of Pegasus targeting WhatsApp and Android became public, Google and WhatsApp patched the security holes that Pegasus was exploding. So, if you have an iPhone running iOS 14 or a phone with Android 11, and you have the latest version of the key apps like WhatsApp installed on your phone, you do not have to worry about classic Pegasus.

Why do govts use Pegasus?

A spyware app like Pegasus is extremely expensive, costing millions of dollars, which can only be paid by big organisations or governments. Also, Pegasus like tools are not mass surveillance tools. They are used for targeted surveillance. So a spyware like Pegasus is largely used by govts and security agencies for spying activities.

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