Hundreds of journalists and opposition members have fallen victim to the Israeli spyware Pegasus. The software can be installed unnoticed on the smartphones of the target persons – with devastating consequences.
mediaTest digital explains how to protect yourself from the spy software.
The Pegasus Project
The Israeli technology company NSO is currently making headlines worldwide with its Pegasus spy software. A global research project led by Forbidden Stories has found that journalists, politicians, activists and opposition figures worldwide have been spied on using the spyware "Pegasus" spied on. This shocking fact emerges from a dataset of over 50 thousand phone numbers. Now it comes to light that more than ten countries were involved in the wiretapping scandal. NSO denies the accusations. The company affirms that the software is sold only to state institutions dedicated to the fight against terrorism and crime. But the targeted spying on journalists and opposition members makes it clear that NSO is deliberately abusing surveillance capabilities and throwing democratic principles overboard.
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How does Pegasus work?
Pegasus generally allows remote monitoring and control of smartphones. Depending on the operating system and device type, there are several ways to infect a smartphone with Pegasus. The prerequisite is that the user (e.g.B. a secret service) targets the target’s cell phone via the mobile number.
- The classic way is to install the Trojan using a believable message that Pegasus sends to the target. In this message there is a manipulated link or a link to a file. File. The victim is tricked into opening them. If this happens, the Trojan installs itself unnoticed on the affected device.
- But the installation can also be done much more inconspicuously. Pegasus can send a message that is not displayed on the smartphone to the targeted device. It makes the device load the spyware automatically. This approach is also called "Zero Click", because the installation is done without any interaction of the target person.
- Another installation possibility results from the simulation of a WLAN network or a local mobile network. The smartphone only has to log into a manipulated cell tower or WLAN router, which NSO sells to its customers. The data traffic is now routed through the NSO servers.
Where is the danger?
Once Pegasus is installed, the attacker has complete control over the device and can access a wide range of functions remotely. The spyware can read encrypted messages, view stored data and read passwords. But also recording conversations and controlling the microphone and camera is possible through Pegasus. The Trojan can even suppress security updates from the manufacturer in order to function on the affected smartphone for as long as possible.
How to protect yourself from Pegasus?
It is hardly possible to protect yourself against the Pegasus spyware. However, the security experts at mediaTest digital provide valuable tips on how users can protect themselves preventively against spyware attacks such as Pegasus.
- In general, the motto is never to use hardware for which the manufacturer no longer delivers updates. Installing such updates is extremely important to close possible security gaps. However, since Pegasus and many governmental institutions deliberately withhold security vulnerabilities, effective protection often cannot be provided by fixing the gap.
- Users should always be attentive when using their mobile device to quickly identify strange behavior. You should never click links in messages that are not obviously trustworthy. This is especially true if the sender is unknown.
- The use of VPNs and an own DNS (domain name system) is also a good preventive measure. By using a VPNS, the device first connects encrypted with the VPN provider, so that there is no direct connection to the WLAN. A DNS server can assign the correct IP address to a domain and vice versa.
- Companies can protect themselves from Pegasus attacks by using a corporate firewall. This protection technology monitors incoming and outgoing network traffic, protecting mobile devices from unauthorized network access.
- mediaTest digital offers its customers comprehensive advice on mobile security and prepares users for security risks and the correct handling of cyber threats. The combination of comprehensive advice from privacy experts and the use of the APPVISORY mobile security solution helps users protect themselves from cyber attacks like Pegasus’. This interaction results in the best possible security for companies.
Pegasus violates human rights
NSO has tried several times to sell Pegasus also to German authorities – so far unsuccessfully. Germany does not approve the software because it is too powerful and potent: it can do significantly more than what the German legal situation permits.The security experts at mediaTest digital also agree: the spyware violates human rights on a massive scale. Everyone has the right to privacy protection. This is not guaranteed by Pegasus. The Trojan monitors every type of communication and also invades the core area of private life. With Pegasus it is possible for a state to take control of smartphones and to spy on and eliminate opposition members in a targeted manner.
NSO also uses zero-days, which they have known about since 2014. These are security gaps that are immediately exploited for attacks before the manufacturers have taken any countermeasures. So NSO deliberately does not report security vulnerabilities so that it can continue to execute hacks. This clearly shows that the interest in an unpatched security vulnerability is greater than the protection of the population. This circumstance violates any principles of democracy.
A danger for all: Protect yourself!
Pegasus is an illegally used weapon technology, which secret services and states deliberately use against journalists and activists in a way that violates human rights. Protection against a Pegasus attack can never be fully guaranteed. However, the tips from the security experts at mediaTest digital provide a good basis for sensitizing users to the cyber danger and intervening at an early stage.