Technological advancement is reigning supreme in the 21st century. Everyone around is actively engaged on their devices either for work, entertainment, or any other purposes. With several apps or software dominating the market, more and more people are transitioning to the tech world for the innumerable benefits that it has to offer. People have particularly become extra-reliant on their smartphones for a variety of reasons. In this networking era, phone security is one such issue that raises specific concerns as it’s a constant companion by our side. Security is important to each one of us as we make our lives go public. From ordinary people to the more important politicians and diplomats, security is a necessity for everyone.
Spyware and malware drop by when we call something as secure. Their simple job is to hack into complex security systems. One such security intruder is Pegasus Software. It can be deemed the top-level or the most powerful spyware in the world. However, it has been put to good use in the past or maybe not. Here in this article, we will be talking about such key information surrounding “what is Pegasus Spyware” in detail. Let’s get a quick recap of the topics that will be discussed before jumping to the main article:
- What is Pegasus Spyware?
- List of things that Pegasus Spyware can do?
- List of targeted users of Pegasus Spyware
- The motive of Pegasus Spyware
- How does Pegasus Spyware hack phones?
- How to detect Pegasus spyware?
- How to prevent Pegasus spyware?
What is a Pegasus Spyware?
Pegasus Spyware is commercial spyware or software that hacks devices to spy on its owner. It acts as a surveillance medium that keeps track of the user’s whereabouts through his device (phone). The spyware is owned by the NSO Group, an Israeli Company. The Group only sells it out to governments for millions of dollars. It is not something to be discovered on the dark web.
The earliest record of Pegasus Spyware was found in the year 2016. Since then, it has achieved more sophistication that allows it to crack security systems with ease. The Spyware can affect both Android and iOS devices. Pegasus Spyware mostly uses default applications like iMessage or WhatsApp to lead a malicious attack on the user’s phone.
List of things that Pegasus Spyware can do
There are a host of things that a sophisticated Pegasus Spyware can do on your device. Some of these actions are:
- Read or copy SMS messages, WhatsApp end-to-end encrypted messages, iMessages etc
- Record incoming and outgoing calls
- Spy and harvest on media including photos, videos etc.
- Switch on the camera, video record and film everything around
- Turn on the microphone and perform an audio recording
- Access to current and past location on the GPS
- Record all the input data like passwords and other important details
- Track browser activity
- Change settings
- Activate sensors that usually require the user’s approval
- Access calendar and address books
With this list of things that Pegasus Spyware can do, we can claim that the device is nearly under the entire control of its hacker. In fact, the hacker has more power over the device than its original owner. All these activities take place with no awareness on the part of the victim.
List of targeted users of Pegasus Spyware
- Human-rights activists
- Business executives
- Religious leaders
- Union officials
Recently (May 2022), it was reported that Pegasus Spyware also targeted Catalan independence leaders and Spanish political leaders like the Prime Minister.
Another recent revelation (July 2022) is that Pegasus Spyware infected the smartphones of 30 Thai activists (Citizen Lab).
The motive of Pegasus Spyware
- The cybersecurity company NSO Group markets and licenses the Pegasus Spyware to government agencies to check the spread of crime and investigate terrorist activities. Thus, people can be saved and criminal actions are prevented by exploiting the potential of such technology.
- However, one cannot guarantee the fact that the government will not be using the spyware for ulterior motives. They may use it to spy on journalists, religious leaders, and other important personalities. Some of the governments of the following countries that are using Pegasus Spyware for such aims are:
- Saudi Arabia
- As per the NSO Group, there are more than 40 countries in the world that are utilizing the Pegasus malware. The Group further claims that it only provides for the countries or clients with human rights records.
- A country that is an exception to the operation of Spyware is the United States. In the country, cyber-surveillance cannot be conducted and phones with US numbers cannot be accessed. However, the CIA and FBI had to remain Pegasus customers in the past.
How does Pegasus Spyware hack phones?
The risk of Pegasus Spyware is colossal. The three main ways that Pegasus Spyware hacks phones are Spear-phishing, 0-day vulnerabilities and 0-click methods. Let us look at each of them in detail:
What is Spear-phishing?
- Spear-phishing is a hacking process by texting links to the targeted device that activates malware when the user clicks on it. It is also used to steal data when a user enters his/her confidential information on the requested spaces.
What is a 0-day vulnerability?
- The most noticeable thing that can threaten a security system is a bug. Bugs are usually glitches that appear when a user interacts with apps and games. Bugs can also emerge in Operating Systems, Window Programs, Linux etc. The main problem lies in the fact that bugs can weaken security systems and promote access to spyware or malware.
- Being an open-source software doesn’t solve the problem. In recent times, three such security-related bugs have been found in the Linux kernel that has been existing for more than a decade. Top tech companies even have rewards for anyone who pinpoints these vulnerabilities. More such security flaws or bugs exist in the Operating System, one of which is the 0-day vulnerability.
- 0-day vulnerability is a vulnerability that is known to a third party before the real owner of the software gets to know about it. The Pegasus Spyware takes full advantage of these 0-day vulnerabilities and hacks into systems. It is known as a 0-day vulnerability because once the attack is executed, the owner has 0 days to tackle the problem and offer a solution. In other words, there is no time left for the victim to solve the security issue as the hacker has already infected the system.
Examples of 0-day vulnerabilities
- One such example of exploiting a 0-day vulnerability occurred in 2019 as reported by Whatsapp. In that year, the NSO software was used to send malware to more than 1400 phones. A WhatsApp call was sent to the victim and a Pegasus code was installed that tracked the user.
- Another case of such security vulnerability was spotted in Apple’s iMessage.
- The tech-giant claims to update its software frequently to avoid such security attacks.
What is the 0-click method?
- In the 0-click method, the user need not click on any link, mail, messages etc to allow the hacker access to his device. The perpetrator makes a missed call to the intended device and the Pegasus Spyware is installed tracking each activity of its victim. Even if the user deletes anything suspicious in their phone, the spyware would continue to keep working.
- According to Claudio Guarnieri, the man who runs Amnesty International’s Berlin-based Security Lab, NSO clients are opting for 0-click methods instead of the traditional SMS messages to hack into phones.
Other ways used by Pegasus Spyware:
- When the aforementioned attacks (Spear-phishing, 0-day vulnerability, 0-click method) don’t work out well, Pegasus Spyware can also be installed through a wireless transceiver that is present near the target. Another alternative is to have access to the user’s phone and have it manually installed.
How to detect Pegasus spyware?
- Detecting Pegasus Spyware is extremely difficult as the NSO Group has ensured that its operations remain private and full-proof. According to security experts, the spyware is usually installed in the phone’s temporary memory instead of the hard drive. As a result with the phone being switched off, any trace of the spyware is completely obliterated.
How to prevent Pegasus spyware?
- The cost of having the Pegasus technology is intensely high. It requires around USD 650,000 along with some additional expenditures like installation charges, annual maintenance etc to afford the spyware. This is an incredibly higher price and the reason to have the spyware must equally be justifiable. So, government agencies won’t be spying on a random or inconsequential user.
- Therefore, you may rest assured that you won’t be a Pegasus Spyware victim. However, if you are suspicious about some recent activities on your phone, here are some points highlighting how you can prevent Pegasus Spyware:
- Keep the Operating Systems and the installed applications updated. You may opt for a Google device for the fastest updates.
- Avoid unsolicited links sent through messages or emails requesting you for a particular action. Only click for links you are doubly sure are not doubtful. Clicking on unauthorized links are usually spear-phishing links sent to hack your phone.
- It is better to not use public Wifi services at cafes, parks etc, as a malicious hacker might hack through your device.
- It is wise to keep a backup of all the important data so as not to lose them.
- Typically, the most secured devices have been hacked in the past. The Pegasus Spyware removal from Android and the Pegasus Spyware removal from iPhone is quite tricky as they are often untraceable. Following these steps doesn’t guarantee you absolute security. These steps are just a reminder about how you can remain aware and follow preventive acts to minimize the surrounding risk.
- If you are not satisfied with these methods, ditching your phone would be your ultimate step. Alternatively, you might not carry your phone during a private meeting or an important event. Make sure, that others do not have their phones as well.
Pegasus Spyware is, therefore, spyware to hack systems typically used by governments to prevent malicious activities or crimes of higher nature. As time progresses, more loopholes will be spotted in the security systems of software. While tech experts will come across solutions, fresh new vulnerabilities may rise. With such technology, things can either go downhill or uphill. Thus, we can conclude that the security of anything, including devices, is a continuous and evolving journey that is bound to change with time. For now, we can expect governments to stay true to their purpose of using the Pegasus Spyware and use it solely for serving the nation. Hopefully, you found the information regarding “what is Pegasus Spyware and how does it work” valuable enough.
Which countries do you think apart from the ones mentioned are utilizing Pegasus Spyware? Can you mention the names of other top spyware and malware software? What according to you would be the most idealized use of the Pegasus Software?