NEW DELHI, India: Indian government is targeting leading journalists with Pegasus spyware – designed to be covertly and remotely installed on mobile phones running iOS and Android –, Amnesty International and The Washington Post said in a joint investigation published Thursday.
Created by Israeli firm NSO Group and sold to governments around the globe, the Pegasus software can be used to access the phone’s messages and emails, view photos, overhear calls, track the location and even film the owner with a camera.
As of March 2023, Pegasus operators could remotely install spyware on iOS versions up to 16.0.3 using the zero-click exploit. While Pegasus’ capabilities may vary over time due to software updates, Pegasus is generally capable of reading text messages, eavesdropping on calls, tracking location, collecting passwords, accessing the target device’s microphone and camera, and gathering information from applications. The spyware is named after Pegasus, the winged horse from Greek mythology.
Amnesty said that journalists Siddharth Varadarajan of The Wire and Anand Mangnale of The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project had been targeted by spyware on their iPhones, with the last case identified in October.
“Our latest findings show that journalists in India increasingly face the threat of illegal surveillance just for doing their jobs, along with other tools of repression, including imprisonment under draconian laws, smear campaigns, harassment and intimidation,” said Donncha O Cearbhaill, head Amnesty International Security Laboratory department.
The Indian government did not immediately respond, but in 2021 denied similar allegations that it used Pegasus spyware to track political opponents, activists and journalists.
Indian media reported last month that the country’s cyber security unit was investigating allegations that opposition politicians tried to tap phones after they reported receiving Apple iPhone warnings about “state-sponsored attackers”.
In that case, Ashwini Vaishnaw, minister for information and technology, said the government was “concerned” by the complaints.