Operation Pegasus: Israeli Software Used to Hack 40 Indian Journos' Phones, Global Victims Number Thousands

By: Sashwata Saha
19 Jul 2021 10:58:52 PM Newshound India Desk

Around 40 journalists from India were reported to be under government surveillance in a leaked list of potential surveillance targets by Pegasus, a spy software sold by Israeli surveillance company NSO. The information was released by a group of 16 news organisations including Paris based non-profit Forbidden Stories, Le Monde, The Telegraph, Washington Post, the Guardian, The Indian Express and the Wire.


These numbers include several reporters from Kashmir, including Aurangzeb Naqshbandi and Muzamil Jaleel of The Indian Express, freelance journalist Shabir Hussein Buchh, and senior scribe Iftikar Gilani. 


Other names in the list include Rahul Singh and Saikat Dutta of Hindustan Times, Vijaita Singh of The Hindu, Ritika Chopra and Sushant Singh of The Indian Express, Sandeep Unnithan of India Today, Siddharth Varadarajan, Swati Chaturvedi, Devirupa Mitra, Rohini Singh from The Wire, Gopikrishnan from Pioneer, Manoranjana Gupta, editor-in-chief of Frontier TV and Punjab based freelancers, Bhupinder Singh Sajjan and Jaspal Singh Heran.


The list also includes two cabinet ministers, three opposition leaders including Rahul Gandhi, election strategist Prashant Kishor, a constitutional authority, government officials, scientists, activists, and members of the legal fraternity. According to reports, on Sunday night, the number registered in the name of a current Supreme Court judge was also found in the database.


The Indian Express report notes that the number of its former reporter Sushant Singh appeared in mid-2018 when he was investigating the Rafale aircraft deal with France, among other stories. Earlier this year, digital forensics of Singh's current phone showed signs of a Pegasus infection.


Meanwhile, Pegasus’ parent company NSO has released a statement denying any knowledge of its software being used to hack the devices of journalists and activists. It claims that it only sells the usage rights of its software to verified governments. The Pegasus malware can appear as a random notification, and clicking on it can upload the software on your phone. It can then begin to record every keystroke made on the device and log the information,


Home Minister Amit Shah has trashed the reports telling the press that the timing of its publication - just the day before the monsoon session of the Parliament - is suspicious. He called the report “made by disruptors for the benefit of obstructors”. However, neither Shah nor the government has confirmed or denied the usage of Pegasus. 


India is one of the 10 countries with the highest number of active Pegasus surveillances. Mexico tops the list with 15,000 ongoing phone taps. 


This is the second time that Pegasus has been associated with telephone surveillance. In 2019, some users of WhatsApp in India including journalists and activists were informed that their phone data had been stolen via Pegasus. While Whatsapp had taken up the matter on a legal front, the Indian government had dismissed the allegations of any form of surveillance of specific groups of people, saying that it has no specific basis or related truth.

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