Pegasus Spyware Controversy And Its Investigation in India

Pegasus Spyware

Privacy is our fundamental right and its violation by anyone is directly inviting a criminal charge against them; be it a person, an organization, or any Government entity.  

Cybercrimes, the new generation of crime is spreading like wildfire. In this era of the internet, our privacy is not so private to us! With the advancement of technologies and the presence of dexterous researchers and experts amongst us, the dark side of technological breakthroughs can’t be overlooked.

Cybercrimes have increased with the constant development in technology. In a recent case in India, a controversy about Pegasus Software erupted and it was revealed that an Israeli company targeted the mobile phones of high authority officials and many others. The controversy went on to become a national-level investigation.

Pegasus spyware is one of many software that can be used for betterment or to destroy some lives depending on the circumstances it is used and the way the information collected through it is used. So here, in this article, we will learn what is pegasus and what was the controversy rolling around it in the country.

What is PEGASUS Spyware?

Pegasus is a mythical winged divine horse, and one of the most recognized creatures in Greek mythology. Spyware is the term given to a category of software that aims to steal personal or organizational information. It is done by performing a set of operations without appropriate user permissions, sometimes even covertly.

A spyware’s general actions include advertising, collection of personal information, and changing user configuration settings of the computer.

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Pegasus Spyware is one of the most dangerous and powerful pieces of software ever developed for surveillance. This spyware can stealthily enter a smartphone and gain access to everything on it, including its camera and microphone through a zero-click exploit.

Pegasus is designed to infiltrate devices running Android, Blackberry, iOS and Symbian operating systems and turn them into surveillance devices. The famous Israeli cyber-arms company NSO Group has developed this flagship product of theirs.

The earliest version of this spyware discovered, which was captured by researchers in 2016, infected phones through what is called spear-phishing i.e., text messages or emails that trick a target into clicking on a malicious link. Since then, however, NSO’s attack capabilities have become more advanced.

Pegasus infections can be achieved through so-called “zero-click” attacks, which do not require any interaction from the phone’s owner in order to succeed.

Controversy About This Spyware

A global collaborative investigative project revealed that Israeli company NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware targeted over 300 mobile phone numbers in India. It was used on ministers, opposition leaders, journalists, activists, minority leaders, supreme court judges, religious leaders, administrators like Election Commissioners, and heads of the Central Bureau of Investigation.

Some of these phones were later analyzed and were confirmed to have been targeted by the Pegasus spyware. 

Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reform stated that this was an attack on the independence of the judiciary as well as a flagrant violation of the right to privacy as upheld by the Hon’ble Supreme Court and an affront on the civil liberties of citizens. It further called for a response from the highest court in the land.  

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The Centre unequivocally denied all ‘over the top allegations’ of surveillance using Pegasus Spyware. The Union government called the story “sensational”, and seemed to be an attempt “to malign Indian democracy and its well-established institutions”.

Investigation of the Controversy

A petition was filed in the Supreme Court seeking a court-monitored probe by a Special Investigation Team into the Pegasus spyware scandal. It also sought prosecution of “all accused persons/ministers for buying of Pegasus and snooping on citizens of India”.

The Supreme Court heard eight petitions seeking an independent probe into the matter. Describing the allegations of surveillance through the use of the Pegasus spyware as serious.

The Supreme Court issued a pre-admission notice to the Centre on a batch of petitions seeking an independent probe into the scandal, while also observing that it will not ask the government to disclose information that affects national security interests. The court rejected the government’s plea to set up its own probe.

On account of the government’s inaction to file a detailed response to the allegations made by the petitioners, the Supreme Court had appointed an independent expert technical committee overseen by a former apex court judge, Justice R.V. Raveendran, to examine allegations.

Justice Raveendran would supervise the functioning of the technical committee and would be assisted by Alok Joshi, former IPS officer, and Dr. Sundeep Oberoi, Chairman, Sub Committee in (International Organisation of Standardisation/International Electro-Technical Commission/Joint Technical Committee).

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The three members of the technical committee would be Dr. Naveen Kumar Chaudhary, Professor (Cyber Security and Digital Forensics) and Dean, National Forensic Sciences University, Gandhinagar, Gujarat; Dr. Prabaharan P., Professor (School of Engineering), Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Amritapuri, Kerala; and Dr. Ashwin Anil Gumaste, Institute Chair Associate Professor (Computer Science and Engineering), Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, Maharashtra.

How to Avoid Spywae Infection in General?

  • Spywares are deceptive in their form, ergo people with less to no knowledge of cyberattacks cannot catch it. However, there are some preventive measures that can keep your data and privacy safe. 
  • Avoid installing free software from questionable sources. It is certainly advisable that find a legitimate tool to perform tasks, as many of the free options may be bundled with spyware. It’s better off purchasing a tool known to be reputable than taking a chance with the alternative.
  • Use anti-malware software. Protect your computer with the most recent and updated form of anti-malware or antivirus software.
  • Keep your computer itself up to date with the latest Windows software and security updates.
  • Don’t click anything you don’t trust. That includes both links and attachments in email (if you don’t know the sender or if the email’s legitimacy seems questionable).
  • Never respond to ads or pop ups in any way. Even if they display “Cancel” or “Close” buttons, do not click it. Simply right click on the border of the window at the top and select “Close”.

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