Pegasus is once again at the forefront of the controversy. The well-known Israeli spyware is the focus of an investigation led by The Guardian Y The Washington Post in collaboration with International Amnesty Y Forbidden Stories. According to the results of this investigation, the Pegasus spyware would have generated a list with 50,000 tracking targets of high interest. Among them, politicians, journalists, businessmen of large and important companies and activists.
Generated since 2016, this list would have been commissioned by direct clients of the company that owns Pegasus, NSO Group. Among its clients, governments of countries such as Spain or India. Also from Mexico, the country with the most clients according to the investigation; specifically 15,000. Morocco and the Emirates would also be the regions with the most listed managers (10,000 each).
According to the details of the report, the list with the details of the 50,000 targets does not imply that they have been spied on or infected with the tracking system. It simply puts them in the spotlight by some contracting organization for NSO Group services.
However, after the analysis of the investigation, it was concluded that more than half of the contacts in said list contained traces of infection by Pegasus spyware. The research group points out that this list will be published in the coming days.
At the moment, they point to the most varied profiles. Most of it is concentrated in Algeria, Mexico, France or Turkey. Politicians of all colors and parties, academics, executives and people from their close and family environment. Also journalists from large international media and The country in Spain. The contact of Cecilio Pineda is included; the Mexican journalist murdered in 2017 whose mobile phone was never found to verify if, indeed, he had been tracked by Pegasus spyware at the request of a client, also Mexican.
Pegasus spyware, an old acquaintance
Pegasus spyware is an old dog. Especially since its presence on Android and Apple devices became known in 2016. After that, the NSO Group’s flagship product has been linked to the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the WhatsApp security flaw in 2019, the espionage of Bezos as well as the use by the National Intelligence Center (CNI) in Spain to spy on Catalan politicians during the you process.
Since then, and as a result of this investigation, the position of NSO has always been the same. The software has Use purposes for national security and criminal investigations. Nothing related to terrorism or crime. However, and as it is exposed in the investigation, some of the data found relate to international criminals. This indicates a breach of contract on the part of the contracting parties and a high permissiveness on the part of the NSO Group. Company that, regarding this leak, points out that does not control the use of its technology by customers since the leak of the list supposes an exaggeration of the events.
Regarding the vulnerabilities of the system, none of the affected companies have made statements. Apple insists on having the most secure operating system at the moment, except for Pegasus spyware. The details of the investigation suggest that the new version of the spyware would have evolved even for the iPhone iOS 14.6. If before you had to make a link to let malicious software enter the system, it would have evolved to be able to access with a simple message through iMessage. Without the affected person having to make a single click. This indicates that, right now, all iPhones (updated to the latest version of iOS 14.6) are vulnerable to Israeli spyware.
A vulnerability that, in fact, would give almost total access to the affected person’s mobile device. From listening to phone calls, browsing history, files, access to the camera or access to all installed applications and the data stored there. Also to the location information with the accuracy of just a few meters, including movement speed.
Basically, if Pegasus breaks into a device, the device is no longer owned by its owner almost instantly. Except for devices registered in the United States and Israel. Which, according to the company, are the exception to Pegasus spyware in order to protect the company’s interests.
NSO Group, between silence and controversy
NSO Group, and creator of the most monitored software of the moment, is considered one of the startup successes in Israel. Founded by Shalev Hulio, Niv Carmi and Omri Lavie, three agents of the Israel cyber intelligence group, its premise was clear from the start: to give a useful tool to the governments of the world to monitor criminals. And the reality is that little is known of these founders. Unlike their Silicon Valley peers, they could circulate around the world without anyone knowing.
The governments of the world were soon attracted by such a large tool. Mexico was the first of them to use Pegasus spyware, still in its infancy, to catch drug lord “El Chapo” Guzmán. After that, the company’s popularity skyrocketed, as well as its valuation and financing rounds. In fact, the founders sold NSO to international funds for 1,000 million, to later buy it some time later sown with controversy.
The idyllic promise to “hunt down the bad guys” was soon dissolved when various investigations pointed to the use of NSO technology to investigate activists or opponents of governments. Also from illegal software sales through cryptocurrencies or opaque relationships with Saudi Arabia to limit human rights in the region. For its part, NSO has given silence in response to these accusations. As well as little data about their movements and customers.
Such is its power that, two years after its founding, Israel considered that spyware Pegasus was a full-blown weapon. As such, it could only be sold to governments with the tacit approval of the state of Israel and the NSO board in order to preserve human rights and the use of the spy platform. A process that, in view of the events, is leaking.