New Delhi: BJP Rajya Sabha member of Parliament (MP) Subramanian Swamy, known for his strong opinions on controversial topics, tweeted today that Israeli-made spyware Pegasus is tapping phones of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet ministers, RSS leaders, Supreme Court judges, and journalists.
Swamy claimed there was a rumour that western media outlets would publish a report exposing this. Swamy tweeted, “Strong rumour that this evening IST, Washington Post & London Guardian are publishing a report exposing the hiring of an Israeli firm Pegasus, for tapping phones of Modi’s Cabinet Ministers, RSS leaders, SC judges, & journalists. If I get this confirmed I will publish the list.”
Congress Lok Sabha MP Karti Chidambaram also referred to Pegasus, but in a more cryptic manner than Swamy. Karti Chidamabaram tweeted, “A little birdie tells me that Pegasus is going to be explosive.”
Veteran journalist Sheela Bhatt tweeted on Saturday night that the report “is a really big story” and involved collaboration of media organisations, including from India. She claimed the report would be published at “11.59pm” on Sunday.
What is Pegasus?
In late 2019, Pegasus, an Israeli-made spyware, was in the news. In October 2019, WhatsApp said it was suing NSO Group, an Israeli surveillance firm, that was behind the technology for Pegasus, which was used by spies to hack into phones of roughly 1,400 users around the world.
These users spanned across four continents and included diplomats, political dissidents, journalists and senior government officials. Indian users were among those who were targeted. Then, The Indian Express reported that “two dozen academics, lawyers, dalit activists and journalists in India” had been snooped on using Pegasus.
Pegasus is a spyware developed by NSO Group, an Israeli company that specialises in what experts call cyber weapons. It first came to the limelight in 2016, when an Arab activist got suspicious after receiving a shady message. It was believed that Pegasus was targeting iPhone users. Several days after its discovery Apple released an updated version of iOS, which reportedly patched the security loophole that Pegasus was using to hack phones.
However, a year later, security researchers found that Pegasus was equally capable of infecting Android phones. More security patches and more information trickled. Then in 2019, Facebook filed a case against NSO Group for creating Pegasus. The security researchers at Facebook were chasing Pegasus across their systems, and they found that the software was used to infect several journalists and activists in India.
This was also the time when WhatsApp told the affected Indian users about it through a message. It is worth noting that NSO Group has confirmed the existence of Pegasus. However, the Israeli company has also said that it sells the tools only to governments and that it is not responsible for its misuse.