SurveillanceWhat is Pegasus? Explaining How the Spyware Invades Phones and What It Does When It Gets In

By What is Pegasus? Explaining How the Spyware Invades Phones and What It Does When It Gets In

Published 10 August 2021

Pegasus is a spyware that can stealthily enter a smartphone and gain access to everything on it, including its camera and microphone. Pegasus is designed to infiltrate devices running Android, Blackberry, iOS and Symbian operating systems and turn them into surveillance devices.

End-to-end encryption is technology that scrambles messages on your phone and unscrambles them only on the recipients’ phones, which means anyone who intercepts the messages in between can’t read them. Dropbox, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo are among the companies whose apps and services use end-to-end encryption.

This kind of encryption is good for protecting your privacy, but governments don’t like it because it makes it difficult for them to spy on people, whether tracking criminals and terrorists or, as some governments have been known to do, snooping on dissidents, protesters and journalists. Enter an Israeli technology firm, NSO Group.

The company’s flagship product is Pegasus, spyware that can stealthily enter a smartphone and gain access to everything on it, including its camera and microphone. Pegasus is designed to infiltrate devices running Android, Blackberry, iOS and Symbian operating systems and turn them into surveillance devices. The company says it sells Pegasus only to governments and only for the purposes of tracking criminals and terrorists.

How It Works
Earlier version of Pegasus were installed on smartphones through vulnerabilities in commonly used apps or by spear-phishing, which involves tricking a targeted user into clicking a link or opening a document that secretly installs the software. It can also be installed over a wireless transceiver located near a target, or manually if an agent can steal the target’s phone.

Since 2019, Pegasus users have been able to install the software on smartphones with a missed call on WhatsApp, and can even delete the record of the missed call, making it impossible for the the phone’s owner to know anything is amiss. Another way is by simply sending a message to a user’s phone that produces no notification.

This means the latest version of this spyware does not require the smartphone user to do anything. All that is required for a successful spyware attack and installation is having a particular vulnerable app or operating system installed on the device. This is known as a zero-click exploit.

Once installed, Pegasus can theoretically harvest any data from the device and transmit it back to the attacker. It can steal photos and videos, recordings, location records, communications, web searches, passwords, call logs and social media posts. It also has the capability to activate cameras and microphones for real-time surveillance without the permission or knowledge of the user.

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