What is Pegasus spyware? And how to protect your phone

Privacy news
2 mins
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It’s being described as the most powerful spyware ever developed. So what is Pegasus? And is it possible to protect yourself from it? We break down the basics of what has been reported in the news over the past few days.

What is Pegasus spyware?

Pegasus is phone hacking software created by an Israeli company called NSO Group and sold to governments around the world.

Why is Pegasus in the news now?

A leaked list has revealed 50,000 phone numbers believed to be “of interest to clients” of NSO, and that list includes phone numbers belonging to rights activists, journalists, lawyers, politicians, and business executives spanning more than 50 countries. 

NSO says the product is meant for monitoring criminals and terrorists. The company also says it only sells the software to agencies in countries that have good human rights records, and that it will investigate misuse of Pegasus.

What does Pegasus do?

Once it’s on your phone, Pegasus can:

  • Copy messages you send or receive
  • Collect your photos
  • Record your calls
  • Film you through your phone’s camera
  • Record your surroundings and conversations in real life
  • Know where you are

How does Pegasus infect your phone?

What makes Pegasus so terrifyingly sophisticated is it can infect devices through “zero-click” attacks, meaning the user does not have to click on anything for the software to get installed. 

A phone might be infected with Pegasus just by receiving a malicious message. Other methods include installation via a nearby wireless transceiver, or of course manual installation, if someone has access to the physical phone.

Often, Pegasus takes advantage of zero-day vulnerabilities—newly discovered flaws in an operating system or device that have yet to be fixed.

Should this matter to you?

Even if you’re a “nobody,” sophisticated digital monitoring matters to you. It has the potential to violate your privacy, whoever you are. Read more on why you should care about surveillance even if you have nothing to hide.

Is there anything you can do to stay clear of Pegasus?

If someone is motivated enough to target you with Pegasus, at the moment there is little you can do to protect yourself, given the ways in which the spyware can be installed on your phone.

If you suspect Pegasus is on your phone, your best bet is to get rid of your phone.

Improve your phone security

Most of us won’t be targeted by something as sophisticated as Pegasus or the similar Predator spyware (for now). But here are ways to improve your security on your phone and keep your online activity private: 

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Vanessa is an editor of the blog.