WhatsApp Hack: What Is Pegasus Spyware and How Was it Reportedly Used to Target Indians?

Pegasus spyware was reportedly used to spy on Indians, a new report says. In 2019, WhatsApp brought the matter to

light when it sued Israeli spyware maker NSO Group for its Pegasus spyware that was allegedly used to snoop on

journalists, activists, lawyers and senior government officials in 20 countries around the world, including India, in May

2019. WhatsApp revealed that it has made contact several Indian users who are targets of illegal

snooping using the Pegasus spyware.

Although the seeming confirmation about the use of Pegasus came after WhatsApp sued NSO Group, the use of

Pegasus has long been suspected in the WhatsApp cyberattack that was first reported in 2019.

What is Pegasus and how does it infect devices?

According to The Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto, which helped WhatsApp with the investigation into the

cyber-attack, Pegasus is the flagship spyware of Israel-based NSO Group. It is however, believed to be known by other names as

well, like Q Suite and also Trident. Pegasus reportedly has the ability to infiltrate both Android and iOS devices and it uses a

number of ways to hack into a target’s mobile devices, including using zero-day exploits.

In the case of WhatsApp, Pegasus has said to have used a vulnerability in WhatsApp VoIP stack that is used to place

video and audio calls. Just a missed call on WhatsApp allowed Pegasus to gain access to the target’s device.

However, the Citizen Lab notes that Pegasus has used other ways in the past to infiltrate a target’s device, like getting the target

to click on a link using social engineering or using fake package notifications to deploy the spyware. Pegasus has been around since 2016 and they have also been using it to target Indians earlier as well.

What can Pegasus do?

Pegasus is a versatile piece of spyware and installing it on a target’s device, it starts contacting control

servers, which can then relay commands to gather data from the infected device. Pegasus can steal information like

passwords, contacts, text messages, calendar details, and even the voice calls made using messaging apps. Further, it

can also snoop using the phone’s camera and microphone as well as use the GPS to track live location.

Who was hacked using Pegasus in India?

The specifics of exactly how many people were hacked in India using Pegasus through WhatsApp is unclear. However,

a WhatsApp spokesperson confirmed to Gadgets 360 that Indian users were among those contacted by the company

over the May 2019 cyber-attack.

“We sent a special WhatsApp message to approximately 1,400 users that we have reason to believe were impacted by

[May 2019] attack to directly inform them about what happened,” WhatsApp wrote

Facebook-owned WhatsApp has also not said anything about who was behind the cyber-attack and illegal snooping.

NSO Group has also denied any wrongdoing and the company claims it only sells the spyware to “vetted and

legitimate government agencies.”

By Cynthia N.

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