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Pegasus Spyware Redux: Indian Journalists and Opposition Figures Under Surveillance

Published December 29, 2023
7 months ago

In a troubling development for press freedom and privacy in India, a recent forensic investigation has uncovered the use of the infamous Pegasus spyware against high-profile Indian journalists and opposition figures. The investigation, conducted by Amnesty International alongside The Washington Post, has cast a shadow on the looming national elections and raised concerns over state-sanctioned surveillance practices.

Siddharth Varadarajan, founding editor of The Wire, and Anand Mangnale of the Organized Crime and Corruption Report Project (OCCRP), were found to be fresh targets of surveillance through Pegasus on their iPhones. This wave of cyber-espionage coincides with reports by Apple that individuals around the world—and over 20 in India, including opposition leaders and journalists—received notifications of potential state-sponsored cyber-attacks.

Among the notified is Mahua Moitra, an opposition legislator recognized for her critical stance in the Indian parliament. Moitra was recently embroiled in controversy for challenging the government's purported links to the Adani Group and subsequently faced expulsion on misconduct allegations.

The recent attacks directed at journalists coincide with their investigative work on sensitive issues. Mangnale, who was probing an alleged stock manipulation, experienced an attack on his device within a day of contacting business tycoon Gautam Adani for comments regarding legal violations in the securities sector.

The timeline of these unwarranted intrusions aligns uncomfortably close to the upcoming national elections in India, where a united opposition will challenge Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). It harks back to past incidents, notably involving Varadarajan, whose phone was compromised by Pegasus in 2018.

The potency of Pegasus, developed by the Israeli NSO Group Technologies, lies in its sophistication, enabling remote surveillance without any active participation from the victim. Evolving from phishing-based installations to zero-click attacks, it has become increasingly difficult to detect and prevent.

Pegasus infiltrates devices, commandeering messaging platforms like WhatsApp to install malware without the need of a response from the target. Such breaches not only undermine privacy but also compromise the security of encrypted applications presumed to be safe.

These revelations come as press freedom in India faces stringent challenges. Journalists are frequently arrested, and India's ranking in the World Press Freedom Index has precipitously declined. The Indian government, while dismissing these rankings, is under scrutiny for the diminishing space for free speech and critical journalism.

While the wellspring of these cyber-attacks remains officially unidentified, the speculative finger-pointing towards state-sponsored intervention cannot be ignored. The implications are vast for India's democratic credentials and the pivotal role of an independent press in ensuring transparent governance.

As the country edges towards pivotal national elections, the specter of surveillance looms, threatening the very pillars of an informed society and the civil liberties of its citizens. Satori News Agency will continue to closely follow these developments and bring forth updates on this escalating situation.

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