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Pegasus malware of the NSO group of Israel, has become a conundrum for sure. It is a well known global brand, feared for the damage it wrecks and appreciated for the technological wonder that it is. It is the biggest challenge as it stands today and a clear-cut killer for privacy of any and every type. It destroys it all. In Greek mythology, Pegasus is a winged horse, created from the blood of Medusa, that opened the spring of Hippocrene with a stroke of its hoof, and that carried Bellerophon in his attack on the Chimera. How Greek mythology makes its way in the modern-day cyber age, vulnerabilities delivered in the manner documented in mythological lore. However much we try to visualize the limit of this malware, even farther it goes.

The latest news shatters it all. Pegasus spyware reportedly hacked iPhones of the US State Department and Diplomats. The audacity of the sellers and users of this malware has been killing. According to reports emanating out of Reuters and The Washington Post, ”Apple has reportedly have notified several US Embassies and State Department employees that their iPhones may have been targeted by an unknown assailant using state-sponsored spyware.” At least 11 US Embassy officials stationed in Uganda with iPhones registered to their overseas numbers have been singled out for this attack. So far, the identity of the threat actors behind the intrusion remains unknown and also the nature of information sought.

What have the governments been brought down to? The sovereign ones. One company notifies about official phones / communication being compromised. Another company makes and sells malware which can compromise it all; where the government supposedly stands testimony. It seems there are any number of governments batting for the rogue company. Have governments become dependent on such companies for the legal interception, intelligence and even nefarious activities. The claims of selling this malware only to governments does not hold ground. Jamal Khashoggi’s murder exposed it all to the world. ”Evidence gathered over the years has revealed systematic use of the technology to spy on human rights activists, journalists and politicians from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Morocco, Mexico, and other countries.” We have had our share of woes.

Pegasus uses zero-click exploits and thus is the darling of anyone who can lay his hands on it; government or otherwise. Might be the tide of world public opinion and legal action is changing. The US state department placed this company in the economic blocklist last month. Might be this decision was motivated by the targeting of US foreign diplomats. Tech giants, Apple and Meta have also got into a legal onslaught for illegally hacking their users. They have exploited previously unknown security flaws in iOS and WhatsApp’s end to end encryption. Apple has gone proactive as well. It has started sending notifications to alerts to users it believes have been attacked by the state-sponsored attacks on November 23. The battle has just begun.


Sanjay Sahay

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