A new report from the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab has revealed one of the world’s most dangerous Android and iPhone spyware program dubbed as Pegasus and it has been found deployed across 45 countries around the world over the last two years.
This infamous spyware was developed by an Israeli company NSO Group known mainly for selling high-tech surveillance tools which can remotely crack into iPhones and Android devices to intelligence agencies around the world.
Pegasus has been designed to hack any mobile devices remotely including Android and iPhones and permit the attacker to access any information of the user without his knowledge. It is the most powerful invention of the company and any data including text messages, whatsapp messages, photos, email etc can be accessed.
Earlier Pegasus was used to target human rights activists and journalists, from Mexico to the United Arab Emirates. But last month it was reported that this spyware was used against one of the staffers of Amnesty International which is a well-known non-profit human rights organization in the world.
According to the new report by Citizen Lab, the Pegasus infections have victims in more countries than earlier thought.
36 Pegasus Spyware Operations Found Deployed in 45 Countries
Last month Citizen Lab reported that they have calculated around 174 publicly-reported cases of individuals targeted with Pegasus spyware, but now traces of this spyware are found in as many as 45 countries.
36 Pegasus operators are using this spyware to conduct surveillance operations out of which 10 of them are actively occupied with cross-border surveillance.
Some of the NSO customers are using Pegasus lawfully but at least 6 of those countries with significant Pegasus operations were “known spyware abusers,” meaning they have been previously linked to the abusive use of spyware to target civil society.
These countries included in the spyware abusers are Bahrain, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
Citizen Lab has tracked down Pegasus infections by creating fingerprints for Pegasus infrastructure to identify the IP addresses associated with the same spyware system. There might be some inaccuracies in the report, due to the usage of VPN and satellite connections by some of its targets.
Response of NSO Group
NSO Group spokesperson released a statement in response to the report by Citizen Lab saying that the company worked in full compliance with all countries without breaking any laws, including export control regulations.
The spokesperson Mr Shalev Hulio told Citizen Lab “Contrary to statements made by you, our product is licensed to government and law enforcement agencies for the sole purpose of investigating and preventing crime and terror. Our business is conducted in strict compliance with applicable export control laws. NSO’s Business Ethics Committee, which includes outside experts from various disciplines, including law and foreign relations, reviews and approves each transaction and is authorized to reject agreements or cancel existing agreements where there is a case of improper use.”
The Group also claims that there were some problems with the Lab’s research as they did not sell in many of the 45 countries listed in the report.