Ground Report | New Delhi: India used Pegasus Spyware; In India, on July 18, there were reports on social media that an important report related to the use of spyware software Pegasus is about to be published. These reports gained strength when Subramanian Swamy tweeted about it and wrote that ‘Pegasus’ services have been taken to tap the phones of cabinet ministers of Modi government, RSS leaders, Supreme Court judges.’
India used Pegasus Spyware
Leaked data shows that India Today, Network 18, The Hindu, and Indian Express are among the target of this possible hacking in India, including journalists from major media organizations such as Hindustan Times editor Shishir Gupta.
Among them are the names of three journalists, two regular writers, including two founding editors of The Wire. One of them is Rohini Singh, who was arrested after writing reports on the business of Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s son Jay Shah and Nikhil Merchant, a businessman close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Another journalist Sushant Singh, deputy editor of the Indian Express, was targeted in July 2018 when he was investigating, among other reports, the controversial Rafale deal with France.
Amnesty International’s Security Lab conducted digital forensic investigations on the phones of seven journalists. The results were tested by experts at Citizen Lab, while a comprehensive methodology review was conducted by an institution at the University of Toronto.
Phone calls from Sushant Singh, a former journalist of Indian Express, Smita Sharma, former anchor of TV18, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, former editor of EPW, SNM Abdi, former reporter of Outlook, Vijeta Singh of The Hindu, and two founding editors of The Wire, Siddharth Varadarajan and MK Venu was analysed.
Most of the journalists in the list are from the national capital and are associated with big institutions. For example, leaked data shows Pegasus clients in India were eyeing four current and one former employees of the Hindustan Times Group.
These include executive editor Shishir Gupta, editorial page editor, and former bureau chief Prashant Jha, defense correspondent Rahul Singh, former political correspondent covering Congress Aurangzeb Naqshbandi, and a reporter for the same group’s newspaper Mint.
Among other prominent media houses, there was at least one journalist whose phone number appears in the leaked records. These include Ritika Chopra of The Indian Express (who covers education and the Election Commission), India Today’s Sandeep Unnithan (who does defense and military reporting), TV18’s Manoj Gupta (who is editor for Investigation and Security), The The Hindu’s Vijaita Singh (covers the Ministry of Home Affairs) is involved, and there is evidence of Pegasus being inserted into her phone.
Founding editor of The Wire Siddhartha Varadarajan and MK Venu, whose forensic examination of the phone has found evidence of Pegasus in it. The Wire’s diplomatic editor Deviroopa Mitra has also been targeted.
Apart from Rohini Singh, the number of senior journalist Premshankar Jha, who writes regularly on political and security matters has also been found in the records. Similarly, independent journalist Swati Chaturvedi was also targeted.
Many senior journalists who have left mainstream organizations also appear as potential targets in the leaked data. Such people include former national security reporter Saikat Dutta, former EPW editor Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, who now writes regularly for the NewsClick website, Smita Sharma, former TV18 anchor, and diplomatic reporter for The Tribune, SNM Abdi, former Outlook journalist. And the name of former DNA reporter Iftikhar Gilani is included.
Govt Denies Role
Meanwhile, within minutes of the report being published, the Center gave its response and said that there was no solid basis for the allegations. The government said, “India is a strong democracy that is committed to ensuring the right to privacy as a fundamental right to all its citizens.” “There has been no unauthorized interception by government agencies. The allegations of government surveillance on specific individuals have no solid basis or any truth attached to it,” it said.
What is Pegasus?
Pegasus exploits a vulnerability via WhatsApp to log into a user’s device and gain access to all the apps on the phone.
Spyware consists of code that is capable of spying, collecting data, and reporting the actions a user takes on the device – all; Calls, emails, texts, locations, app data, etc. It remotely collects all information about the target’s device, wherever they are.