Spying from the Skies: The Pegasus Spyware Phenomenon

Spying from the Skies: The Pegasus Spyware Phenomenon

Spying from the Skies: The Pegasus Spyware Phenomenon

Author: Chandini Prajapati from City Groups of Colleges, Lucknow


The Pegasus spyware, created by the Israeli firm NSO Group, is a powerful surveillance tool designed to infiltrate computers and mobile devices covertly. Its primary objective is data extraction, often without the user’s knowledge or consent. While NSO Group claims to work exclusively with authorized governments, recent revelations have exposed its use beyond combating terrorism and criminal activities. Pegasus operates through various attack vectors, including SMS or iMessage links, and even missed WhatsApp calls. Its zero-click method ensures silent compromise, leaving users vulnerable. The spyware’s deployment has serious privacy implications, especially for journalists, human rights activists, and politicians worldwide.

In India, where fundamental rights are constitutionally protected, the misuse of Pegasus infringes upon citizens’ right to privacy. Urgent action is needed to safeguard individual liberties and hold those misusing the spyware accountable. As we navigate this complex landscape, striking a balance between security and privacy remains paramount. Vigilance and informed discourse are essential to protect against unwarranted intrusion in this intricate web of digital espionage.

The Pegasus spyware scandal, which erupted in 2021, exposed a clandestine network of surveillance targeting journalists, activists, politicians, and business figures worldwide. The Israeli company NSO Group’s Pegasus software, initially designed for legitimate purposes, became a weapon of intrusion, enabling unauthorized access to personal data, messages, and calls.


Pegasus, developed by the Israeli cyber-arms company NSO Group, is a powerful spyware designed to infiltrate mobile phones running both iOS and Android. While NSO Group markets Pegasus as a tool for combating crime and terrorism, it has been widely used by governments to surveil journalists, lawyers, political dissidents, and human rights activists. Let’s delve into its capabilities: Zero-Day Vulnerabilities: Pegasus exploits unknown and unpatched vulnerabilities in the mobile operating system, allowing it to silently infiltrate the target device without the user’s knowledge. Zero-Click Exploits: Unlike traditional malware, Pegasus doesn’t require any human interaction or errors. It can be deployed remotely through zero-click mechanisms. Data Collection: Pegasus can: Read text messages, Intercept calls, Collect passwords, and track the device’s location, Access the microphone and camera, Harvest information from apps. Surveillance Capabilities: Once installed, Pegasus communicates with the attacker’s command and control servers, executing instructions and transmitting the target’s private data, It can trace messages, call records, calendar events, and photos, the spyware can activate your phone’s camera and microphone, potentially recording conversations and monitoring your surroundings, It pinpoints your location and tracks your interactions. Government Use Only: NSO Group exclusively sells Pegasus to governments. Stealth and Removal: Pegasus evades forensic analysis and anti-virus detection, if necessary the attacker can deactivate or remove it. Cost and Licensing: A single license can infect multiple smartphones and costs up to 70 Lakhs.

Indian Laws and the Pegasus Wake-Up Call

Spyware, especially in the context of surveillance, occupies a murky space across various countries. While it serves as a crucial tool for monitoring and targeting individuals linked to criminal or terrorist activities, it also raises significant concerns. The balance between security and privacy becomes precarious when spyware is used to surveil civil society members, journalists, and activists.

NSO Group Technologies, an Israeli surveillance company, developed the spyware known as Pegasus.

WhatsApp, owned by Facebook Inc., filed a lawsuit in a California court against NSO Group Technologies.

WhatsApp alleged that Pegasus had hacked the phone systems of 1,400 users across the world, including civil society members, journalists, and human rights defenders from nearly twenty countries.

Pegasus infiltrated devices through WhatsApp, establishing connections without any user interference.

NSO Group claimed that they were not properly served notice about the lawsuit, citing violations of international laws.

The Pegasus case served as an awakening call in India.

WhatsApp’s allegations revealed that Indian activists and civil society members were also targeted by this spyware.

This raised critical questions about data protection and privacy within the Indian context.

The case highlighted the need for robust cyber security laws and regulations12.

Existing Laws in India:

The Indian Telegraph Act, of 1885, deals with the interception of calls.

The Information Technology (IT) Act, of 2000, addresses the interception of data.

Under both laws, only the government, under specific circumstances, is permitted to conduct surveillance, excluding private actors2.

In a special petition filed in 2021, the Supreme Court of India ruled that cyber-attacks and data thefts are crimes under the IT Act and the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

Challenges and Safeguards:

The Indian government has faced allegations of using Pegasus to monitor political opponents, journalists, and activists.

Hacking is illegal under Indian law, but the government has not explicitly confirmed or denied its use of Pegasus.

Safeguards against unauthorized surveillance remain a contentious issue

 Balancing fundamental rights and technology

 Balancing fundamental rights and technology is a multifaceted challenge. While technological progress has bestowed considerable advantages, it has also engendered apprehensions regarding fundamental rights. Privacy concerns arise due to data breaches, surveillance, and invasive practices. The digital age amplifies both the freedom to express ideas and the risk of censorship. Striking the right balance is crucial. Technology empowers governments with unprecedented surveillance capabilities, necessitating accountability and prevention of misuse. Additionally, the digital divide exacerbates disparities, making equitable access to digital resources essential. Harmonizing global regulations across jurisdictions is challenging, given technology’s borderless nature. In this intricate landscape, protecting fundamental rights demands innovative strategies, international cooperation, and digital literacy. Let us strive for a harmonious coexistence where technology enhances lives without compromising our rights.

Safeguarding fundamental rights in the digital age

Safeguarding fundamental rights in the digital age necessitates a comprehensive approach that integrates legal, technological, and societal measures. 

Key strategies include:

Strong Legal Framework: Establishing and enforcing laws that explicitly protect digital rights, privacy, and freedom of expression. These laws should adapt to evolving technological landscapes.

Robust Data Protection Laws: Implementing stringent regulations to safeguard personal data, prevent misuse, and hold organizations accountable for breaches.

User Empowerment: Educating users about their rights, privacy settings, and informed consent. Empowered users can make informed choices and demand transparency.

Digital Literacy and Education: Promoting awareness and understanding of digital risks, rights, and responsibilities. Literate citizens are better equipped to navigate the digital realm.

Collaboration: Governments, tech companies, civil society, academia, and individuals must collaborate. Collective efforts can address challenges like misinformation, cyberbullying, and surveillance.

Let us steer technology toward enhancing human rights, fostering equality, and preserving individual dignity.


In an interconnected world, where information flows seamlessly across borders, the rise of spyware incidents like Pegasus has thrust us into uncharted territory. These digital weapons, once confined to the realm of espionage novels and Hollywood thrillers, are now a stark reality. As we grapple with their implications, we find ourselves at a crossroads—a juncture where security, privacy, and democracy intersect.

The Pegasus Paradox: A Double-Edged Sword Pegasus, developed by the Israeli firm NSO Group, was initially designed to combat terrorism and criminal activities. Its mission—to track down those who posed a genuine threat to society—seemed noble. But like any powerful tool, it quickly transcended its intended purpose. The paradox lies in its dual nature: a force for good and a harbinger of malevolence. On one hand, Pegasus aids law enforcement agencies in apprehending criminals, thwarting terrorist plots, and safeguarding national security. Its ability to infiltrate encrypted communication channels and extract vital intelligence is unparalleled. Yet, this very prowess becomes a liability when wielded by authoritarian regimes or rogue actors.

The Slippery Slope: From Criminals to Dissidents Spyware, once unleashed, knows no boundaries. Its trajectory is unpredictable, and its targets extend beyond the realm of criminality. Activists, journalists, and human rights defenders have found themselves under its watchful gaze. Dissenters, who challenge oppressive regimes, become unwitting subjects of surveillance. The line blurs between legitimate investigation and unwarranted intrusion. The Pegasus case serves as a chilling reminder that the definition of a “threat” can evolve. What begins as a hunt for terrorists morphs into a dragnet for dissenters. The very individuals who champion democracy and civil liberties become victims of the same technology meant to protect them.

The Erosion of Privacy: A Silent Siege Privacy, once considered sacrosanct, now hangs in the balance. Spyware infiltrates our digital lives—the intimate conversations, personal emails, and confidential documents—all laid bare. The erosion is gradual, imperceptible. We willingly trade privacy for convenience, unaware that our devices harbor silent intruders. The right to privacy, enshrined in international conventions, faces an existential threat. As spyware proliferates, we must reclaim our digital sovereignty. Striking the delicate balance between security and privacy is our collective responsibility.

Regulation: The Imperative The Pegasus case underscores the urgency for robust regulation. Nations must collaborate to establish clear norms governing spyware deployment. Transparency, oversight, and accountability are non-negotiable. We need an international framework that transcends borders—a digital Geneva Convention—to safeguard our digital rights. Companies developing spyware must be held accountable. Ethical guidelines should govern their actions, ensuring that their creations serve the greater good without compromising individual freedoms. The days of unchecked surveillance must end.

The Road Ahead: Navigating Complexity Our digital landscape is intricate, fraught with challenges. As we navigate this complexity, we must remember that technology is a tool—a means to an end. It is our collective wisdom that shapes its trajectory. Let us choose wisely: to protect, not oppress; to empower, not surveil. The Pegasus saga is a wake-up call—an opportunity to recalibrate our moral compass. We stand at the precipice, gazing into the abyss of digital warfare. Let us forge a path that upholds our values, preserves our privacy, and secures our shared future.

In this age of uncertainty, where bits and bytes wield immense power, we must tread carefully. The legacy we leave behind will define the digital era—an era where the battle lines are drawn not on physical battlegrounds but within the circuits of our devices. Let us choose wisely, for the stakes are higher than ever before.

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