Pegasus can spy on multiple phones simultaneously

A few days ago, Facebook-owned WhatsApp formally filed a lawsuit against Israel-based spyware-maker NSO Group (aka Q Cyber Technologies) for unauthorized breaching of its server and snooping on 1400 (and counting) individuals.

WhatsApp with the help of the Citizen Lab, the University of Toronto's 'interdisciplinary laboratory', found that the spyware Pegasus developed by NSO Group was used to illegally monitor people in at least 45 countries across four continents. In India, around 19 citizens mostly human rights activists, academics, lawyers and journalists were reportedly spied on.

Now, new information has emerged that the Pegasus is capable enough to track close to 500 mobiles per year and also monitor 50 people simultaneously at any given time, The Economic Times reported citing unnamed cybersecurity personnel with knowledge about Pegasus-like spyware.

But, espionage service does not cheap, as the company can charge anywhere between $7 and $8 million per year for the spyware usage license, the cyber expert added.

Pegasus spyware: All you need to know

Pegasus is a highly sophisticated spyware, which used zero-day vulnerabilities of WhatsApp to snoop on targeted individuals. It is believed that the NSO Group utilised reverse engineering techniques to detect loopholes in WhatsApp's encryption feature, which the Facebook-owned company app developers weren't even aware (hence called zero-day vulnerability) until May 2019.

Here's How Pegasus worked 
The spyware operator sends a message on WhatsApp with a harmless looking URL link and if the receiver unwittingly clicks it. The Pegasus tool, which comes with a sophisticated feature can bypass the phone's security and get uploaded into the phone without the owner's knowledge. What's more alarming is that it can even infect the target phone with just a missed video call.

Once inside, it can access all sensitive information including SMS, photos, locations, passwords, audio calls on third-party apps and more, and relay it to the spy operator via C&C (Command and Control) method. The tool can even independently switch on the camera and the microphone and start recording to help spy operators track the target in real-time.
"Once the spyware is implanted, it provides a C&C server with regular, scheduled updates designed to avoid extensive bandwidth consumption. Pegasus is designed to be stealthy and evade forensic analysis, avoid detection by anti-virus software, and can be deactivated and removed by operators" the Citizen Lab said in the blog post.

Must Read | Did you know? WhatsApp GIFs can be used to hack your phone

Fortunately, during a routine security checkup in May 2019, WhatsApp detected suspicious activities on its servers and patched the glitch with firmware and stopped Pegasus spyware from tracking and further infecting more victims on its messenger app on all iOS, Android and Windows phones.

It has come to light that the Pegasus might have been used to track people on other popular messaging apps including Telegram, Skype, Viber and even SMS chats (both iOS and Android). 

WhatsApp has asked US Supreme Court to make NSO Group accountable for breaching user privacy and be tried under U.S. state and federal laws, including the U.S. Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

In India, the central government has asked WhatsApp for clarification on not reporting the local citizens spied using Pegasus tool. Though the company is said to have informed about the related incident just in terms of a user privacy breach but failed to specifically mention the involvement of the NSO Group and its spyware.

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