The pile of the target of the Pegasus spyware has been overwhelmed in India as what has entered the country as a tool for surveillance and countering terror and crime has now successfully defied the privacy of some of the big leaders through spying on them. The shocking revelation of the targets of the spyware had stormed the nation and raised major concerns over the rise of cybercrime in the country and the awry of the spyware.
In an unprecedented development, the Pegasus snoop list has revealed that over 300 Indians were targeted by the spyware. Pegasus is the spyware developed by an Israeli-based NSO Group and it is only sold to the governments and the company says that spyware provides the technology to governments to help them in countering terror and crime. The spyware can be installed covertly on mobile phones and after being installed, it is capable of reading text messages, tracking calls, collecting passwords, tracking location, accessing the target device's microphone and camera, and harvesting information from the mobile applications.
The spyware is capable of escaping detection and after it enters the device, it can completely observe and control the device and can carry out the task of spying through listening to your ears, seeing your contacts, and breaching your privacy. If the government can possibly invoke the spyware in one's mobile, the recipient will be under the scanner all day. With such potentiality, the spyware can monitor and track the movements. The horrible face of Pegasus had come to light when the consortium of international media had said that more than 50,000 phone numbers across the world are believed to have become susceptible to hacking by Pegasus.
Over 300 verified phone numbers - including two Union Ministers, over 40 journalists, three opposition leaders, and one sitting judge, businessmen, government officials, scientists, rights activists, and others in India are believed to have been targeted for hacking. It has immensely shocked the country as the hacking plot was extraordinary with the target of Union Ministers and several high-profile figures. From the list of 50,000 mobile numbers, journalists were able to identify more than 1,000 individuals in fifty countries who were allegedly selected by NSO clients for potential surveillance.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, Political analyst Prashant Kishor, and Union Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw are among the Indians who are believed to have been targeted by Pegasus. According to The Wire, which is a part of the global media consortium on the Pegasus project, Rahul Gandhi's phones had been targeted from mid-2018 to mid-2019. As the Congress leader is not using those phones, it is yet to be established whether the hacking attempt was successful. Rahul Gandhi, in his statement, has said that he had received suspicious WhatsApp messages earlier, and later, he had changed the numbers and phones.
In his statement to The Wire, Rahul Gandhi said, "Targeted surveillance of the type you describe whether, in regard to me, other leaders of the opposition or indeed any law-abiding citizen of India is illegal and deplorable. If your information is correct, the scale and nature of surveillance you describe go beyond an attack on the privacy of individuals. It is an attack on the democratic foundations of our country. It must be thoroughly investigated and those responsible be identified and punished."
Union IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw and Minister of State Prahlad Patel are also on the snoop list and it must be noted that minister Vaishnaw had dismissed the Pegasus project and called it an attempt to malign Indian democracy. The report said that the phone number of VHP leader Pravin Togadia was also the target of the spyware. The Wire also reported that Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa, who accused Prime Minister Modi of violating the election code before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, was also on the list of big targets in India.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, her nephew Abhishek Banerjee, Hari Menon - the Indian head of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the woman staffer who accused former Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi of sexual harassment were believed to have been targeted by Pegasus. The revelation of spying had caused a storm across the country and it has sparked a political heat in the ongoing monsoon session of the Parliament. The opposition parties including Congress had staunchly slammed the Central ruling BJP and blamed Prime Minister Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah for spying the fellow ministers and journalists in the country.
On Tuesday, during the second day of the monsoon session, both the houses had witnessed heated debates and protests against the revelation of the Pegasus project. Pegasus project is a collaborative investigation carried out by the consortium of international media into a report of hacking by Pegasus across the world. The leaked database, which was believed to be targeted and hacked by the spyware, was accessed by Paris-based media nonprofit Forbidden Stories and human rights organization Amnesty International and the database was shared with the media consortium including The Guardian, Washington Post, The Wire, Le Monde, and the leaked database has shockingly revealed that more than 50,000 phone numbers, across the world, are believed to have been the target of Pegasus.
From the list of 50,000 mobile numbers, journalists were able to identify more than 1,000 individuals in fifty countries who were allegedly selected by NSO clients for potential surveillance. As the reports emerged with an unprecedented fashion of cybercrime, the development has worried India and triggered dismay in the country for an awful revelation of the flawed state of the software that was sold to the government agencies. Of these 1,000 individuals, 189 are journalists, 65 people are businessmen, 85 are human rights activists, more than 600 politicians, government officials, and several heads of state. The journalists belong to global news agencies including Reuters, CNN, The Associated Press, The Wall Street Journal, Le Monde, and The Financial Times.