Pegasus spyware being used to commit horrible human rights abuses, must be stopped: WhatsApp chief

By: |
July 19, 2021 3:37 PM

The comments from Will Cathcart came after a global media consortium revealed that the spyware was being used to spy on thousands of journalists and activists.

The new investigation was conducted by 16 media organisations from across the world, and was carried out after a massive data leak. (Representational image)

Pegasus spyware: After an investigation by global media consortium revealed that the NSO Pegasus spyware was being used to spy on activists and journalists, WhatsApp head Will Cathcart took to Twitter to say that the spyware was being used to commit horrible human rights abuses, adding that it needed to be stopped. The investigation report has said that the spyware is being used as a cyber-surveillance weapon in over 50 countries, one of which is also India. This has come about two years after WhatsApp had sued Israel-based NSO Group for allowing its Pegasus malware to access users’ devices by exploiting a vulnerability in the instant messaging app.

Taking to Twitter, Cathcart said that defenders of human rights, companies working in the area of tech, as well as governments must work together to ensure that the user security is increased, while also holding entities that are abusing Pegasus spyware accountable. He further called this revelation a wake-up call for security on the internet, saying that since smartphones acted as primary computers for many users, they should be made as secure as possible.

Also read | Pegasus Project: Leaked database includes 300 Indian phone numbers

Back in 2019, Pegasus had been in the news for allegations that it had been used to snoop on activists, journalists, advocates as well as senior government officials in 20 countries including India by exploiting a known WhatsApp vulnerability, which the company had fixed before it became public. Months after the reporting of this spying, the Facebook-owned messaging platform sued the NSO Group, and also worked with an internet watchdog to identify cases of abusive targeting of journalists and activists, of which it found over a 100 cases.

Now, Cathcart has said that this revelation points out that the true scale of this abuse was much higher.

The new investigation was conducted by 16 media organisations from across the world, and was carried out after a massive data leak.

Security researchers have said that the spyware could be installed on phones by exploiting a common vulnerability, post which data like SMSes, emails and chats from apps like WhatsApp along with GPS data could be sent back to the attacker.

Meanwhile, the NSO Group has said that Pegasus has only been made to spy on terrorists and criminals, even as the investigations point to the spyware being used to target intellectuals. The NSO group has also told news agency ANI that the investigation by the consortium was an “international conspiracy”, adding that the list of countries included in these reports was totally incorrect as some countries were not even clients of the NSO Group. The group added that they only sold the spyware to law enforcement and intelligence agencies of governments after carrying out due diligence.

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