Lies, spies and spyware – Opinion | #cybersecurity | #cyberattack | #cybersecurity | #infosecurity | #hacker

James Bond 2021. The bad guy caressing the Prussian cat. Mega screen showing what his targets are doing. He raises his Artificial Intelligence phone and presses keys giving commands- find them, catch them, kill them. Live on the screen he sees his commands being enacted. No this is not another James Bond version of “You only live twice”, it is the real virtual world of spying live and direct into the body, brain and lives of people. Everything is snoopable. Everything is hackable. Everybody is accessible. Everybody is available. Welcome to the world of invaders of the lost privacy. The 5th generation warfare is based on 6th generation spyware. The 6th generation spyware is based on a software that is truly invasive and intrusive.

The latest software Pegasus leaks are not totally surprising. There has been so much talk of the information warfare, data leakages, hacker attacks that the Pegasus leaks were just a confirmation of these suspicions. This is a world where controlling psychological mindspace is much more effective than controlling geographical space. This is scary. This is more lethal than the tanks and bomb wars. This is an unchartered territory. This is an invisible predator as slithery as the unseen coronavirus.

Pegasus is a phone invading spyware. It enters phones via innocent text messages. As the person clicks he gives entry to the hacker all that goes on in his phone and various applications. The hacker can then communicate with the Pegasus spyware via the remote command centre and issue directions for what information the spyware should send back to the hacker’s server. Passwords, contact lists, calendar events, text messages, and live voice calls from popular mobile messaging apps. It is literally cutting edge. It slices through encryptions, security walls and is equally effective on IPads, Androids and other systems. It is like Virtual Voyeurism. Somebody unknown to you watching your moves and messages and knowing exactly what, when, where you are, your thoughts, your moves. It can take pictures from your camera at all odd hours and occasions. Very dangerous.

Pegasus has been developed by the Israeli firm NSO Group that was set up on 25 January 2010. The stated objective of these products was to be “used exclusively by government intelligence and law enforcement agencies to fight crime and terror.” The Citizen Lab report in 2018 identified 45 countries, including India, Bahrain, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, where it is being used. In November 2019 there was a scandal in India where activists suspected that the government was snooping their data. A three-member committee was formed by the government who concluded that no evidence of such nature was found. However these leaks prove that Indian government has been using this software to pry upon more than 300 people. This is the time to really expose the Indian duplicity, lies and illegality by leveraging:

  1. Receptivity of international media- These leaks are made by a consortium of top media organizations of the world, including Washington Post, Guardian, etc. It is time for Pakistan to liaise and form a common bridge with them especially against the nexus between India and Israel. They must be given space to expose their findings. Virtual engagement with the heads of this particular consortium is recommended to use their findings, etc. They must be engaged in a series of seminars and dialogues, etc., to expose their exposé.

  2. Empathise with the affected media- Among the names on the list who were part of this hacking were journalists for Agence France-Presse, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, The New York Times, Al Jazeera, France 24, Radio Free Europe, Mediapart, El Pais, the Associated Press (AP), Le Monde, Bloomberg, The Economist, Reuters and Voice of America, the Guardian said. This is literally the global voice platform. Invading their phones is a double crime. Privacy poaching and intellectual rights issue. Just as Pakistan did a dedicated media splash on Panama Leaks, Pegasus Leaks need the same coordinated exposure. Interviews of these journalists who have been hacked should be spread through electronic and social media. This will indirectly also expose the Indian double face.

  3. Human rights and civil society- The Pegasus leaks includes Non-profit organizations like Amnesty International and Forbidden stories. Amnesty International has been very active in giving details of the lists of people who have been infected with this software. Amnesty International was asked to leave India by the Modi government because they were revealing the human rights atrocities of the Indian government. They actually sued NSO the parent company of Pegasus in Israel but lost the case. With a common interest against India and Israel they are an excellent platform to raise voice on Kashmir, Palestine, etc.

  4. Political and financial forums- Pegasus project as the Washington Post calls it, clearly says that in India not just journalists but opposition members as well as Pakistan Prime minister Imran Khan were in the lists of the targets to be infected and invaded. This is a very serious breach of legal codes. That is where Pakistan can highlight Modi government’s immoral and unethical ways of attacking opponents especially in Pakistan. The latest statement by Indian Foreign minister Jai Shankar revealing that India made sure Pakistan remains on the grey list in FATF is also an indication of how India is politicizing organizations and damaging their credibility.

Pegasus is malware. This has mala fide intention of attacking people sinisterly and deviously. It invades and infects without leaving a trace. Its whole purpose has become suspicious, notorious and dubious. That is why people who have the same thought process like Narendra Modi find this tool so suitable for their agenda of lying, spying and depriving targets of their individual space. The world is talking about it. This talk should find resonance in Pakistan. The resonance needs to be weaved into a strategic communication at the most extensive media platforms.

The challenge is to ensure that this is not just another blip on the Indian radar but a consistent narrative that echoes around the world persistently to bring it in the criminal noose. The reality of the matter is that this spyware is being used for the exact opposite reason stated in its mission of countering terrorism. It is being abused by states for state terrorism. Not only countries but media itself is in danger. Normally, it is one of them. With both having a common enemy this time the opportunity to uncover the Indian and Israeli reality is ripe. And the battle must be fought on all fronts. Just like Corona the Pegasus virus needs to be countered strategically, morally, ethically, globally, and legally.

(The writer can be reached at [email protected])

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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