Why Pegasus was already the most famous spyware

Prior to Project Pegasus, Pegasus spyware was at the heart of several businesses. To the point of becoming the symbol of a new form of targeted cyber espionage.

With the “Project Pegasus”, this is the first time that Pegasus spyware has received such a high level of attention in France. With good reason: the consortium of 16 media led by Forbidden Stories in collaboration with Amnesty International has acquired a list of 50,000 phone numbers targeted by the malware, and offers an unprecedented perspective on the extent of its use.

But the very existence of spyware has been known since 2016. The Citizen Lab, a research unit at the University of Toronto had published a report titled “The dissident who was worth a million dollars”, result of his dissection of a smartphone freshly infected with Pegasus. The device belonged to Ahmed Mansoor, an Emirati human rights defender, who will be jailed a year later on charges of ” disturbance of public order “And” publication of false information »On social networks.

NSO Group made a name for itself with the iPhone hack. // Source: Louise Audry for Numerama

It wasn’t the first time the activist had received a hack attempt, and he quickly turned to the researchers. In addition to its political dimension, the case was noted for its technical significance, as hackers had used previously unknown vulnerabilities to deploy Pegasus on Ahmed Mansoor’s iPhone 6.

With this first story, specialists discovered NSO Group, the Israeli company that publishes Pegasus. Since then, his name and that of the spyware appear in stories of surveillance of journalists, activists or personalities at regular intervals. Pegasus quickly became the leader and the emerging face of an ecosystem of cutting edge spyware, sold at high prices, the latest example of which is the “DevilsTongue” by Israeli publisher Candiru.

The assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi linked to the name of Pegasus

For the past four years, the name Pegasus has been officially assigned to several cases, when it is not just suspected as in the Jeff Bezos smartphone hack case.

But the name of Pegasus really became famous after October 2, 2018, the day of the assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul by Saudi agents. This opponent of power wrote in the Washington Post, a media whose owner is none other than Jeff Bezos.

Quickly, it appeared that his smartphone had been infected with pegasus, deployed by the Saudi authorities against him and other opponents, and that the information collected could have participated in the death sentence. NSO Group has always defended itself from any involvement in the affair to the point of breaking its contract with the Saudi authorities, and it still defends itself today in his reaction to Project Pegasus : « As NSO previously stated, our technology was not in any way associated with the heinous murder of Jamal Khashoggi. »

Still, the new documents provide evidence of the use of Pegasus against several members of Khashoggi’s family after his murder. For example, 4 days after his death, Pegasus was installed on his fiancee’s smartphone, while his son and ex-wife were also targeted.

In its statements, NSO Group claims that its software is only used to monitor terrorists and high-level criminals. This is why the Israeli government still allows it today to sell its services to other governments despite recurring scandals. It remains to be seen whether the international reach of Project Pegasus has any effect on the prosperity of its business.


Source: Numerama by cyberguerre.numerama.com.

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