Have you ever wondered if your phone is listening to you? Perhaps spying on you or stealing personal data and important information straight from your phone? Or maybe you have been concerned that someone can hack your phone and secretly spy on you, watching and hearing everything you do or say? I know one thing for sure, is that I have. 

I have always had the fear that our phones are secretly listening to us or that someone on the other end is spying on me while I freely use my device. Sad to say this might be true for some individuals. 

Numerous media outlets investigated the notion that a powerful hacking software named Pegasus, which is licensed to governments across the world by the Israeli company NSO Group, targeted numerous political opponents, lawyers, human activists, and journalists, and more across the world.

Those who have been targeted are more than 600 politicians and government officials, Arab royal family members, 189 journalists, 64 business executives, 85 human rights activists, and 50,000 phone numbers have been leaked. 

The Pegasus spyware can infect iPhones and Android devices, and once it does it can turn into 24-hour surveillance.

Forbidden Stories, which is a Paris-based nonprofit journalism organization, and Amnesty International, had access to the leak of over 50,000 phone numbers selected as targets by clients of NSO since 2016. 

This data was then shared with media outlets such as the Guardian, the Washington Post, Le Monde, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Die Zeit, and 12 other news organizations. Over 80 journalists have worked together over several months on the investigation into the NSO Group and its clients, which is formally called the Pegasus Project. The investigation was coordinated by Forbidden Stories.

Some of those reported to have fallen victim to the spyware attacks or whose phones were on the list of leaked information are: 

Loujain al-Hathloul

Loujain al-Hathloul is the women right’s activist in Saudi Arabia, who was selected for possible targeting, right before her 2018 abduction in the United Arab Emirates and forced to return to Saudi Arabia. al-Hathloul was imprisoned for three years, where she was allegedly tortured.  

People close to Andrés Manuel López Obrador

At least 50 people that are close to the president of Mexico Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, were possible targets. This included his wife, children, aides, and doctors. 

Rahul Gandhi

A prominent political rival of the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was selected twice as a potential target. 

Carine Kanimba

Kanimba was an imprisoned Rwandan activist who inspired the movie Hotel Rwanda, was a victim of multiple spyware attacks. However, Rwanda government claimed they had no ties with NSO. 

People close to Jamal Khashoggi

Those who were close to Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist who was murdered in October 2018, while visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, were also attacked by spyware. Those attacked were his fiancee, just days after his murder, and his wife, who was targeted between September of 2017 to April of 2018. 

Cecilio Pineda Birto

Mexican journalist Cecilio Pineda Birto’s phone was found to be on the list twice, including the month before he was murdered. 

Andras Szabo and Szabolcs Panyi

The phones of these two Hungarian journalists were found to also be attacked by Pegasus. 

Contrary to these reports, NSO claimed that the surveillance tools are only sold to vetted government clients who are only allowed to use the tools for investigations into crime and terrorism.

So what exactly is Pegasus and what can it do to your phone

The Pegasus spyware can infect iPhones and Android devices, and once it does it can turn into 24-hour surveillance. The spyware can be installed via SMS, WhatsApp, iMessage, or other unknown vulnerabilities. Once it makes its way into a device it can harvest your messages, emails, photos, and videos, and can record phone calls. What’s even more creepy is that it can secretly activate your phone camera and microphone, and can pinpoint your current and previous locations. 

Since Apple is a pretty popular technical device these days, by no surprise it decreased in stock once news broke that Pegasus has successfully attacked iPhones as recently as July 2021. Apple continues to ensure that iPhones are safe and the most secure. 

Even Amazon stated that they stopped providing network services for NSO once it became aware of the spyware attacks. 

As for NSO itself, they continue to deny all allegations made by the Pegasus Project. Founder and Chief Executive of NSO, Shalev Hulio stated that the leaked data has nothing to do with NSO. However, he did state that he was “concerned” about the allegations and promised to further investigate. 

As for people who own a technological device, which is almost everyone in the world, we are left scared wondering if someone is spying on us, right at this moment. If they can get to powerful world leaders, renowned journalists, influential activists, business executives, and more, who’s to say Pegasus can’t attack anyone?  

Jaala Brown is Gen Z Voice at The Pavlovic Today.

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