In a major expose, the French media nonprofit, Forbidden Stories and Amnesty Internation, have claimed that the Government of India may have used the Pegasus Spyware which is sold by the NSO Group of Israel to conduct surveillance of over 300 Indians including 2 serving Cabinet Ministers, 3 Opposition Leaders, 1 Constitutional authority, various Government officials, scientists & renowned businesspersons.
The leaked list contains phone numbers of over 40 Indian journalists as potential targets for surveillance, and forensic tests have confirmed that some of them were successfully snooped upon by an unidentified agency using Pegasus spyware which the reports consider being the Central Government.
The leaked data includes the numbers of top journalists at big media houses like the Hindustan Times, including executive editor Shishir Gupta, India Today, Network18, The Hindu and Indian Express.
Apparently the list contains the name of Journalist Rohini Singh after she filed back-to-back reports on the business affairs of home minister Amit Shah’s son, Jay Shah, and Nikhil Merchant, a businessman who is close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and also while she was investigating the dealings of a prominent minister, Piyush Goyal, with businessman Ajay Piramal.
Moreover, The number of former Indian Express journalist Sushant Singh appears on the list in mid-2018 when he was working on an investigation into the controversial Rafale aircraft deal with France, besides other stories.
It is believed that they were snooped upon in 2018-19 in the run-up to the General Elections in 2019. The government has however denied any such claims and in a statement said, “The allegations regarding government surveillance on specific people have no concrete basis or truth associated with it whatsoever. In the past, similar claims were made regarding the use of Pegasus on WhatsApp by the Indian state. Those reports also had no factual basis and were categorically denied by all parties, including WhatsApp in the Indian Supreme Court. This news report, thus, also appears to be a similar fishing expedition, based on conjectures and exaggerations to malign the Indian democracy and its institutions.”
In response to the data leak, the Israeli Cyber Intelligence company NSO Group says the report is “full of wrong assumptions and uncorroborated theories” as well as it “has no factual basis and is far from reality.”
Pegasus- the spyware developed by an Israel-based cyber intelligence and security firm NSO Group, which is apparently available only to “vetted governments” is so capable that it can infiltrate both, iOS and Android devices.
If the Citizen Lab of the University of Toronto is to be believed, the Pegasus Spyware can evade forensic analysis, avoid detection by anti-virus software, and can be deactivated and removed by operators remotely.
Adding to the threat is its capability of stealing passwords, contacts, text messages, and accessing the phone’s camera, microphone, and GPS, and other information with voice or video calls made through Whatsapp.
The leak is expected to create in Indian Politics as the monsoon session of the Parliament starts today.