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Pegasus and spyware: this is how espionage programs are for the military, civilians and companies | Companies

Pegasus spy software, created by the Israeli company NSOhas caused an earthquake in Spanish politics after a report by the Canadian organization Citizen Lab revealed that it had been used to hack the mobile phones of at least 65 politicians and activists from Catalonia and the Basque Country, and even that of the Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez. This tool, however, is not the only one of its kind, but is part of a category of applications and malicious programs known as spyware (spy software) that, in fact, are scattered both in the defense sector and in the criminal world and even among companies and ordinary citizens.

What is spyware or espionage software? According to Palo Alto Networks, the world’s largest cybersecurity company, spyware is a type of malicious software (malware in English) that collects and shares information about a computer or network without the user’s consent. It can be delivered to devices and installed without consent as part of a genuine software bundle, or through deceptive advertisements, websites, links, emails, messages, or direct file-sharing connections. Some of these programs can even allow access to geolocation and the microphones or cameras of mobile phones and computers.

Bogdan Botezatu, director of threat research at the cybersecurity company Bitdefender, explained to Five days that Pegasus is one of the most advanced spyware for iOS and Android that has been detected in the world to date, and that it exploits vulnerabilities in applications such as WhatsApp or FaceTime to infect smartphones: “Pegasus compromises the device through vulnerabilities and takes advantage of your root access on the device. From there, attackers have full control of the target and can install additional apps, exfiltrate files, and more.” According to Citizen Lab, this software would have been used against some 50,000 people and in at least 34 countries, although NSO indicates that it would have operated in up to 40 countries in 2021. The CNI of Spain would have paid up to 6 million euros to acquire the espionage tool.

Klara Jordan, director of public policy at Cyber ​​Peace Institute, has assured this newspaper that in Europe these types of tools are found more in less democratic countries, but that all the governments of the region have used them and that criminals also use them: “These leaks are different from giving the data to Facebook or Amazon, because there is no control or good practices. The data is used criminally, can be manipulated in any way, or end up on the deep web. These privacy violations could make you a victim of theft, kidnapping or fraud, and in the case of authoritarian regimes could get you jailed or even killed.”

Some of the spyware may also log keystrokes to obtain personal data such as user name, address, passwords, banking and credit information, or social security information. It can also scan files on the system’s hard drive, snoop on other applications or read cookies,

The creators of Pegasus, however, insist that their creation is intended to support the forces of law. “The firm position of NSO on these issues is that the use of cyber tools to monitor politicians, dissidents, activists and journalists is a severe misuse of any technology and goes against the intended use of such tools. We are a provider and do not operate the technology or have access to the data collected. The company does not know and cannot know who the targets of its customers are, but it implements measures to ensure that these systems are used only for authorized uses,” a company spokesperson assured. Five days.

Given this, Jordan replies that the company has been an accomplice, since it should have guaranteed that its software is used only to fight crime or terrorism from the beginning: “It makes no sense that they could have sold it to political parties or other types of entities, because it was not designed to be used outside the defense and security environment. They had a responsibility to verify that it is used in the correct context.” The specialist clarifies that the European Union is currently working to guarantee that when countries acquire this type of tool, are used only in the right setting and under the supervision of a judge.

The use of spyware, however, transcends espionage. Spyware can collect almost any type of data, including web browsing habits or download activity. In this sense, Palo Alto Networks experts assure that, unlike other types of malware, these tools are also used by “unscrupulous advertisers” and companies that seek to collect market data from users without their consent. Specialists add that, as an advertising tool, spyware is also used to collect and sell user information to interested advertisers or other interested parties. In these cases, these programs are called Adware (malicious advertising software).

It should be noted that, despite its complexity, defending against these threats is possible. Nicolás Arias, Director of Special Projects of the cybersecurity company VUexplained to Five days that to avoid this type of program, it is necessary to consider keeping the devices updated and not installing unnecessary applications or applications from unofficial sources: “In addition, it is recommended to use a firewall that allows you to analyze connections and even analyze traffic, in addition to security mechanisms such as multiple factors of authentication and encryption of data stored and in transit”.

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