A global investigation by seventeen media groups has revealed that governments across geographies may have used a spyware called Pegasus designed by an Israeli company for surveillance on journalists, politicians, businessmen, human rights activists and people from the legal fraternity among others. The leaked database of the NSO Group, the Israeli company in question features over 50,000 phone numbers that have been identified as ''people of interest'' by their clients since 2016.
As per reports, phone numbers of new IT minister Ashwini Vaishnaw and Prahlad Singh Patel, Minister of state for water resources were on the list. Vaishnaw and Patel did not respond to requests for comment.
That's not all, the list also features the name of Rahul Gandhi, former Congress President and Lok Sabha MP, Senior TMC lawmaker Abhishek Banerjee and political strategist Prashant Kishore.
Phone numbers of more than 40 Indian journalists feature in the list. These include top scribes from big media houses such as Hindustan Times, Indian Express, Network18, The Hindu etcetera. The Indian government has slammed the news reports as malicious claims, based on conjectures, exaggerations.
The NSO group meanwhile has said that they sell their technologies solely to law enforcement and intelligence agencies of vetted governments for the sole purpose of saving lives through preventing crime and terror acts.
So how does Pegasus work? One of the key worries is that the spyware has evolved from earlier spear-phishing methods using text links or messages to 'zero-click' attacks which do not require any action from the phone's user. If neither work, Pegasus can also be installed over a wireless transceiver located near a target. Once installed, it can more or less access any kind of information of the victim's phone.
To discuss this in detail, CNBC-TV18 spoke with Siddharth Varadarajan, Founder-Editor, The Wire, and Milind Deora, Congress Leader and Former Minister of State for Communications. Mr. Varadarajan's phone number features on the database and his phone is believed to have been compromised.
For the entire discussion, watch the accompanying video
First Published: IST