Pegasus Spyware UPSC Notes (Prelims and Mains)

Pegasus Spyware : It is spyware developed by the Israeli cyber arms firm NSO Group Technologies. It mainly uses exploit links, clicking on which installs Pegasus on the target’s phone. Citizen Lab which has investigated several cases of Pegasus infections showed through its research that social engineering is a very common strategy to deliver the most sophisticated spyware.

What is Pegasus Spyware ?

As per the Citizen Lab report, in 2012, NSO Group raised $120 million from several investors. The company reported $108 million in revenue for 2016. The investigation by Citizen Lab found that $5 million of the revenue was used to fund the development of its spyware to target two alleged human rights activists in Mexico, Khalid el-Azab and Ahmed Mansoor. Pegasus is the world’s most sophisticated spyware and is often referred to as the ‘Facebook killer’ because it can be used to surreptitiously follow a target online and track their behavior. It’s also known to be used to remotely capture audio from mobile phones, and it can also record videos from smartphones, laptops, and desktop computers.

What is the difference between malware, Trojan horse, virus and worm?

Malicious software is defined as software designed to perform unwanted illegal actions through a computer network. It can also be defined as malware. Malware can be classified according to its operating mode, propagation mode, and/or function. Some of them will be discussed below.

 Virus: A program that can infect other programs by modifying other programs to include a possible evolutionary copy of itself. Worms-Unlike viruses, computer worms are malicious programs that spread through computer networks. They copy themselves from one system to another instead of infiltrating legitimate files.

Trojan horse: A Trojan horse or Trojan horse is a program that usually undermines the security of the system. Trojan horse programs are used to create backdoor programs (programs that allow external access to the secure network) on computers belonging to a secure network so that hackers can access the secure network.

Hoax: An email that warns users of a system that it is damaging the computer. Thereafter, the message will instruct the user to run a program (usually in the form of a download) to repair the malicious system. When this program is running, it will invade the system and delete an important file. Spyware-invades the computer, as the name suggests, monitors the user’s activities without the user’s consent. Spyware is usually forwarded through unsuspecting emails with real email IDs. Spyware continues to infect millions of computers worldwide.

What does Pegasus Spyware do?

The spyware gathers call logs, text messages, screenshots, keystrokes, keyboard coordinates, log-in credentials, GPS coordinates, and much more. How to protect yourself against it? Security researchers have found dozens of ways that you can protect yourself against Pegasus. In this article, we have shared a few of the methods to keep your smartphone secure from Pegasus. Make sure you make the payment over 2 methods Using 2 methods like Google Pay, Samsung Pay, or Apple Pay, will help you to ensure the payment method will remain a secret to the attacker. This method also helps you to save your account details. Set up a pin to lock your phone It is pretty easy to set up the pin on your smartphone, you will find it under Settings. Go to Security and turn on Pinto Unlock.

What is a zero-click attack?

Zero-click attacks help spyware like Pegasus to control devices without human interaction or human error. Therefore, if the target is the system itself, all knowledge about how to avoid phishing attacks or which links to not click on is meaningless. Most of these attacks use software that receives data even before determining whether the input is credible, such as email clients.

How does it get people to install it?

As the NSO Group sells the software as a commercial tool, the media and the Internet are its key avenues for distribution and propagation. As an example of how easy it is to distribute the software through social media a LinkedIn post describing the software was circulated. When the company discovered this fact it decided to remove the post. Spyware producers themselves use the Internet as a distribution channel for their products. It has been shown by several investigations that according to the NSA this software is being offered for sale to Chinese cyber arms dealers, the Gulf countries and the US. Today the NSO Group is one of the top three cyber weapons in the commercial market.

Why is it important to know about Pegasus Spyware?

Pegasus is thought to have been used in Saudi Arabia in the Jamal Khashoggi murder case, in which Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is implicated. The spyware is most likely associated with the Saudi agents who executed Khashoggi in Istanbul, Turkey. But after the leak of a recording of the murder, a number of Saudi citizens are also suspect to be responsible for the killing. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu claimed that the names of the Israeli agents involved in the assassination case were supplied to the Israeli government by American investigators. Then he went on to say that: “Pegasus has been available to anyone since its debut. This was a gift for many regimes but was presented to the world by the Saudi crown prince, and only a few leaders knew its real capabilities.

How did Pegasus WhatsApp come into the news?

Given that WhatsApp has been using end-to-end encryption, this is a problem for many people. You can install the software on your device with just a missed call in the app, without clicking on deceptive links. WhatsApp later explained that Pegasus took advantage of the video/voice call feature in the app, which had a zero-day security vulnerability. It doesn’t matter whether the target answers the call, the flaw allows malware to be installed anyway. The vulnerability affects WhatsApp for Android and iOS; WhatsApp Business for Android and iOS; and WhatsApp for Windows Phone and Tizen (Samsung).

Can Pegasus be used to target almost everyone?

 Technically, yes. However, while tools like Pegasus can be used for large-scale surveillance; in this case, WhatsApp confirmed that it had sent a special message to users it believed were affected by the attack to directly inform them of what happened. The company notified a dozen Dalit scholars, lawyers, activists, and journalists in India. It is not clear who is monitoring the Indian targets. When discussing the WhatsApp allegations, the NSO Group stated that it specifically provided the tool to licensees. Government intelligence and law enforcement agencies, not just anyone who wants it.

Should we switch to another application?

 The popularity of messaging applications makes them a target for hackers, cybercriminals, or other entities. Even law enforcement agencies around the world want the news to be declassified, and WhatsApp is opposing this lawsuit, including in India. WhatsApp uses the protocol of the Signal app for end-to-end encryption, which currently appears to be secure. An advantage over Telegram: Only secret chats are encrypted end-to-end in Telegram, while in WhatsApp, everything is done this way by default. People affected by the WhatsApp incident may wish to switch to Signal or Wire. Almost every program and application in the world may have vulnerabilities and may be exploited by people or organizations determined to do so at some point in the future.

Challenges  

Various forms and techniques such as social engineering, using user applications, and then exploiting loopholes make this problem difficult to solve.

 Thousands of applications in the Google Play Store and Apple App Store have undiscovered vulnerabilities that may be exploited by companies such as NSO. By focusing mainly on WhatsApp, it just shifted the focus from other possible ways, through which it can be used more and have a greater impact.

 The lack of digital security awareness and experts makes it a fragile sector. -Social elements are beginning to use cyberspace more, which provides them with more escape.

Solutions

Individual level

It is important to keep the phone updated for ensuring the security of the devices, both the applications and the firmware.

It is necessary to be self-aware about digital security because compromise in that could lead to a situation of total surveillance.

Government level

It needs to investigate into the matter so that such future incidents can be prevented.

It should make stricter rules and restrictions for the applications made available in the country and monitor the most commonly used applications without breaching the privacy of the individuals.

Laws on digital privacy and security need to be implemented more strictly.

Digital literacy should be increased to spread awareness about cyber threats.

Computing environment and Internet of Things (It is a network of physical devices, vehicles, home appliances and other items embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators and connectivity which enables these things to connect, collect and exchange data) with current tools, patches, updates need to be secured.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) should be used for predicting and accurately identifying digital attacks and breaches.

The need of the hour for the Indian government is to develop core skills in data integrity and data security fields, while also setting stringent cybersecurity standards to protect individuals and institutions of national importance, to make sure that the unity of the nation and the integrity of the individuals stay safe and secure.

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