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Pegasus Spyware alleged Database Leak has African Leaders as Targets

by Felix Omondi

The world has never been as interconnected as it is today. You could work, purchase, learn, deliver, drive, monitor, approve, and accomplish many other digital tasks at the swap of a screen or a click of a button. Sometimes you could be doing all these from the comfort of your bedroom, as you manage affairs happening halfway around the world in real-time. Such is the power of digital technology powered by the internet.

On the flip side, you leave a thick fingerprint on these digital technologies that contain virtually all of your information. That is, who you talk to, where you live, what you eat, what you wear, how much money you make, and your budget.

Experts can extrapolate that information further to preempt your next move. (Ehem ehem, Google/Facebook/Amazon highly targeted ads.) As consumers of digital technology, we – sometimes unknowingly – surrender our data to big tech companies in exchange for freebies or convenience. Google Search, Android, Chrome browser/OS are ‘free services.’ Facebook and Amazon are hallmarks of convenient shopping and staying in touch with friends and family.

NSO Group’s Project Pegasus

Your digital fingerprint can be useful beyond just marketing purposes. Hackers are notorious for using it to siphon money out of people’s accounts, create fake digital identities, and infiltrate user’s electronic devices to deny you access and demand ransom.

State institutions, especially those tasked with national security, also employ hacking tactics to eavesdrop on possible dissidents and suspected terrorists. The ethicality of it remains a hot debate among pundits. Nonetheless, government institutions will pay top dollars to get private data on individuals or organizations it deems of interest.

So much so those cybersecurity experts turned shrewd entrepreneurs are finding creating spyware to be a booming business. Such is the case with Israeli cyber arms company NSO Group.

With the tagline ‘cyber intelligence for global security and stability,’ NSO Group works as a cyber mercenary company deploying its digital soldier Pegasus spyware to infiltrate the electronic devices of its targets. The spyware is so good that it stealthily bypasses all the security protocols available in virtually all the major operating systems.

Pegasus Leaked Reports

A leak purported to be NSO Group database shows state agencies contracted the company’s spyware to spy on several world leaders. The leaked report alleges that:

  1. In 2019, a Rwandese client approached NSO Group to spy on South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa.
  2. In 2019, a Moroccan client had interests in spying on Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus – current World Health Organization’s director-general.
  3. Emmanuel Macron was also a person of interest by entities in Morocco
  4. Rwanda has been a long-time NSO Group client 
  5. Several state agencies in Mexico are said to have hired the NSO Group services. Pundits on corruption matters in the Southern American country say the technology could land in the wrong hands.

The above list is not exhaustive as the leaked database contains 50,000 phone numbers of world leaders, politicians, and business moguls. NSO Group, while addressing a section of the media, said that “the media were making incorrect assumptions” out of the purported leaked database.

The company says that even if the alleged leaked list includes world leaders, it does not mean their Pegasus spyware is targeting them. Shalev Hulio, founder and CEO of NSO, says that he doubts that the leaked data has any relevance. However, he admits that there is a window of opportunity for their clients to misuse the system.

Your Cybersecurity begins with you

Someone stole South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa’s iPad

Indeed there are a lot of bad people lurking on the internet waiting to harvest your data. On the flip side, the internet will not be as accessible and free as it is today were it not for marketers. Platforms such as Google Workspace and social media platforms will not be as free or affordable as they are today.

Therefore, it falls upon you as an individual to be cautious about your cybersecurity. That entails using updated software, antivirus, antimalware, and avoiding suspicious websites, software, Wi-Fi network, or connecting to suspicious peripheral devices. You should also be an active advocate for more robust legislation around data security with your local government.

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