WhatsApp Isn’t Safe, Here’s How Israeli Spyware Pegasus Operates

WhatsApp is like a hidden door to your phone that can provide access to all the data it stores.

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3 min read

Video editor: Vivek Gupta
Video producer: Anubhav Mishra
Cameraperson: Abhishek Ranjan

If you receive a voice call on your WhatsApp and it disconnects even before you can receive it, then beware. It might have been a spyware attack. Spyware is a virus that is involved in data theft of a smartphone. Who you are speaking with, what kind of messages you are sending or receiving, your contacts list, notes, photographs, etc – all of these can be remotely tracked by a stranger and you could be completely oblivious.

The talk of the town is that WhatsApp is like a hidden door to your phone that can provide access to all the data it stores.

The most popular messaging app in the country, WhatsApp was used to spy on at least two dozen journalists, Dalit activists, lawyers and intellectuals. The spying incidents allegedly took place in May during the 2019 Lok Sabha Polls.

Catch all the coverage on WhatsApp snooping here.

How Does Pegasus Operate?

The Pegasus spyware was built by an Israeli company called NSO Group. WhatsApp has now filed a case in federal court in San Francisco against NSO group. The allegation is that NSO injected the spyware in over 1,400 smartphones across the world, and attempted to acquire crucial information about the users.

Since 2012, NSO has come up with multiple methods to inject the spyware in a smartphone. Earlier, they used to forward you a misleading message with a link. Once you click on the link, the spyware would be injected into your phone. But by mid-2019, the NSO had devised a much sneakier way – a missed call.

The moment your phone buzzes with a WhatsApp call, it doesn’t matter whether you pick it up or not, the spyware named ‘Pegasus’ has already made its way to your phone. And it doesn’t matter whether you own a Blackberry, an Android or an iPhone, it works the same.

What Does Pegasus Do?

On activation, the spyware Pegasus gets access to:

  • Communications through WhatsApp, Telegram, iMessage or Skype.
  • Password, contact list, calendar events and text messages.
  • Mobile camera and microphone.
  • Location of your phone through GPS tracking.

Just imagine how potentially dangerous this can be. It is far more dangerous than a literal spycam in a person’s bedroom.

Remember Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist whose disappearance stirred panic across the world? It was later discovered that he was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October 2018. After this incident, NSO reportedly ended its agreement with the Saudi Arabian government – why? Because the Saudi government had allegedly spied on Khashoggi using Pegasus, before murdering him.

Activists Confirm a Spyware Attack

NSO has denied all the allegations against it. As per NSO:

“Our technology was not designed to monitor the journalists and human rights activists and nor do we license it to anyone for such use.”

NSO has also said that they sell Pegasus only to government agencies. After these sensational revelations, Nihalsingh Rathore, a lawyer in Bhima-Koregaon case, Bela Bhatia, a human rights activist in Chhattisgarh, and Shalini Gera, associated with Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group, all confirmed to The Quint that WhatsApp had informed them in May of a spyware attack targeted at them.

The question arises, who would want to spy on this particular set of people?

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