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What is the Pegasus (spyware)?

Pegasus is a spyware that can be installed on devices running certain versions of iOS, Apple's mobile operating system, developed by the Israeli cyberarms firm, NSO Group.

The Israeli firm linked to this week’s WhatsApp hack is facing a lawsuit backed by Amnesty International, which says it fears its staff may be under surveillance from spyware installed via the messaging service.

Discovered in August 2016 after a failed attempt at installing it on an iPhone belonging to a human rights activist, an investigation revealed details about the spyware, its abilities, and the security vulnerabilities it exploited. Pegasus is capable of reading text messages, tracking calls, collecting passwords, tracing the location of the phone, and gathering information from apps.

NSO Group, founded in 2010, supplies industry-leading surveillance software to governments that it says is for tackling terrorism and serious crime, and has been licensed to dozens of countries including Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Bahrain and the UAE.

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Apple released version 9.3.5 of its iOS software to fix the vulnerabilities. News of the spyware garnered significant media attention. It was called the "most sophisticated" smartphone attack ever, and became the first time in iPhone history when a remote jailbreak exploit had been detected. The company that created the spyware, NSO Group, stated that they provide "authorized governments with technology that helps them combat terror and crime".

Pegasus is the name of a spyware that can be installed on devices running certain versions of iOS, Apple's mobile operating system. Upon clicking on a malicious link, Pegasus secretly enables a jailbreak on the device and can read text messages, track calls, collect passwords, trace the phone location, as well as gather information from apps including (but not limited to) iMessage, Gmail, Viber, Facebook, WhatsApp, Telegram, and Skype

But there have been a string of complaints in the past few months, documented largely by the Toronto-based Citizen Lab, that the technology has been used to target human rights groups, activists and journalists by several countries – and that there has been no attempt to rein it in.

That culminated, earlier this week, in the announcement by Facebook-owned WhatsApp that it had raced to patch up a security hole in its messaging service, which it believed had been exploited by NSO Group, that would have allowed spyware to be placed on a person’s mobile phone simply via a missed WhatsApp call.

The vulnerabilities were found ten days before the iOS 9.3.5 update was released.

Arab human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor received a text message promising "secrets" about torture happening in prisons in the United Arab Emirates", along with a link. Mansoor sent the link to Citizen Lab. An investigation ensued with collaboration from Lookout security company that revealed that if Mansoor had followed the link, it would have jailbroken his phone on the spot and implanted the spyware into it.Citizen Lab linked the attack to a private Israeli spyware company known as NSO Group, that sells Pegasus to governments for "lawful interception", but suspicions exist that it is applied for other purposes. NSO Group is owned by an American private equity firm, Francisco Partners.

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