A recent report published by Citizen Lab cautioned that it had detected Pegasus, a spyware created for mobile devices, in over 45 countries. Pegasus, which transforms a cellphone into a mobile surveillance station, could have been deployed against a range of journalists and civil society actors in Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Morocco, Togo, Israel, the U.S., and the United Arab Emirates, the report found.
Researchers have previously identified a number of major Pegasus campaigns, including one against investigative journalists in Mexico, and another against human rights workers in Saudi Arabia. The spyware’s presence in 45 countries raises significant implications for journalists, both in terms of their own security as well as the safety of their sources.
The spyware gives the attacker the ability to monitor, record, and collect existing and future data from the phone. This includes calls and information from messaging applications and real-time location data. The spyware is able to remotely activate the camera and microphone to surveil the target and their surroundings.
Pegasus is designed to be installed on phones running Android, BlackBerry OS, and iOS without alerting the target to its presence. Journalists will likely only know if their phone has been infected if the device is inspected by a tech expert.
Pegasus can be installed in a number of ways. Journalists should be aware of these methods and take appropriate steps to protect them and their sources. Research by Citizen Lab and Amnesty International found that messages tend to take the following forms: Messages purporting to be from a known organization such as an embassy or a local news organization. Messages that warn the target may be facing an immediate security threat.
Messages that raise any work-related issue, such as covering an event that the target usually reports on. Messages that make appeals to personal matters, such as those relating to compromising photos of partners and Financial messages that reference purchases, credit cards, or banking details.