Pegasus Spyware: Birth of a New Peril for Pakistan


Pegasus Spyware: Birth of a New Peril for Pakistan

A list of 50,000 phone numbers leaked to Amnesty International and the Paris based journalism. Some nonprofit Forbidden Stories, earlier this month, raised quite a ruckus in the arena of global politics. What was so peculiar about these phone numbers? Were these owned by hitmen or people to be targeted by hitmen or something more grievous?

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These were actually the phone numbers of potential targets who may have been hacked by clients of the notorious Israeli spyware firm NSO Group, using the Pegasus spyware. What caused even more of an uproar was the fact that the list included the phone numbers of influential world leaders like Presidents Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa and Barham Salih of Iraq. Moroccan King Mohammed VI and three current prime ministers. Names like Imran Khan of Pakistan, Mustafa Madbouly of Egypt, and Saad Eddine El Othmani of Morocco. All these were also on the list, according to The Washington Post.

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The ‘Nitty-Gritty’ of Pegasus Spyware

A neon-colored text hyperlink in an email or a cool image hyperlink on a website pop-up. it is via such apparently innocuous links that malware is downloaded onto devices without the user’s knowledge. According to Kaspersky, a global cybersecurity company, the cyber weapon Pegasus can read the target’s messages and emails, listen to calls, capture screenshots, record keystrokes and access contacts and browser history. The most frightening of  capabilities of Pegasus is the ability to hijack the target phone’s microphone and camera, turning it into a real time surveillance device. Hence, when the phone numbers of influential world leaders came out as part of the list of potential Pegasus victims, it posed a huge threat to the national securities of the concerned leader of states.

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Stance of Pakistan on the matter

“At least 10 countries including India were believed to be NSO clients”, the advisor of Prime Minister, Barrister Shehzad Akbar said while addressing a press conference. He further revealed that a statement accusing India of “state-sponsored, continuing and widespread surveillance and spying operations in clear breach of global norms of responsible state behaviour”, had already been issued by the Foreign Office of Pakistan.

What makes India even more culpable of this Pegasus attack is the accusation of Indian opposition that Prime Minister Narendra Modi targeted rival, Rahul Gandhi, using NSO group Ltd.’s Pegasus spyware.  Thus, in light of the recent events, Pakistan has called on the pertinent UN bodies to investigate the matter in-depth. Also to expose the facts, and hold the Indian perpetrators to account. Pegasus Spyware: Birth of a New Peril for Pakistan is a topic of demand.

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The Way Forward

Ranked seventh among the states having the worst cybersecurity, Pakistan is a state extremely vulnerable to cyberweapons. Over the years, it has been afflicted greatly owing to all sorts of Indian cyber-attacks whether it be ‘covert surveillance’, ‘website defacement’ or ‘cyber espionage’. It is high time that Pakistan acknowledges the Gospel of the contemporary world as a cyber-battle ground and cyber-attacks as the future of warfare. Moreover, this acknowledgement should bring along with it the realization that relying on political statements to securitize the cyber-offence ability of enemy is not going to ensure the national security and sovereignty of the state. There is only one way forward for Pakistan to avoid being knocked down by cyber offences. The education of its officials and citizens on how to surf cyberspace harmlessly and securing its critical urban infrastructure. This can be done by means of up to date technology and regular vulnerability assessments. 



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Fatima Zainab
Fatima Zainab studies Strategic and Nuclear Studies at National Defence University, Islamabad. She is an IBM Certified Cybersecurity Analyst. Her areas of interest cover Cyber Warfare, Contemporary Security Studies, and International Politics.


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