What is Pegasus, the controversial software that would have spied on Aragonès?





Independence politicians such as the president of the Generalitat, Pere Aragonesor its predecessors TOrra, Puigdemont and More they are the latest to join the long list of alleged victims of the Israeli espionage program Pegasus. Created more than a decade ago by the company NSO, it has always been surrounded by controversy due to its use against journalists, activists and politicians from all over the world, from Emmanuel Macron to the King of Moroccopassing by people close to the murdered Saudi journalist Jamal kashoggi.

We review what this controversial technology consists of, how it works, in whose hands it is and who has been spied on.

What is Pegasus?

The spy software is the flagship product of the Israeli security company NSO, created by three ex-military men, Niev Carmi, Shalev Huilo and Omri Lavie (whose initials make up the name NSO). According to its founders, its birth in 2011 sought fighting cybercrime, preventing terrorist attacks or combating human trafficking and drug trafficking, although organizations such as Amnesty International denounce its use against political dissidents and human rights defenders in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Morocco or Mexico.

How do you spy?

This stealthy spyware or spyware infiltrates mobile phones without leaving a trace. It can break into any device through, for example, text messages or instant messaging app security breaches. “Pegasus has the potency to cause a tremendously simple infection. You receive an SMS or a Whatsapp, click and that’s it”, as explained in RNE by the cybersecurity expert Juan Miguel Velasco. The program takes advantage of the fact that the user is usually “suspect” and can click on links that he believes to be safe without even realizing it. It can also break into phones without the owner’s help, although this method is more complicated and less common, Velasco said.

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The malware he is able to gain almost unlimited control, without the user knowing. Detect the location of the subject, enter their applications, record conversations, access emails, contact lists, photos and videos, read text messages or remotely activate the camera to take pictures or record conversations.

Who has been victimized by Pegasus?

The list is very long. An investigation carried out by 17 media outlets and the NGOs Amnesty International and Forbidden Stories in July last year uncovered that Pegasus infiltrated 50,000 phone numbers politicians, journalists, political human rights activists or company directors from all over the world.

Among them are the French President, Emmanuel Macron, his Prime Minister and 14 other members of his Executive, the President of Iraq, Barhan Salih, or the King of Morocco, Mohammed VI. Pegasus tried to infiltrate the phone of one of the wives of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, just six months before his death, and his later fiancée just a few days after his murder. Even in Israel politicians, officials and ordinary citizens were spied on.

What countries use Pegasus?

The company that created this software only sells it to governments and security forces. Industry experts estimate that at least 60 military, intelligence, or security agencies in 40 countries around the worldare the ones that had this technology, many of them from the Middle East and the Persian Gulf.

Although the full list is not public, it has been widely used in Saudi Arabia, India, United Arab Emirates or Hungary. Mexico was the first country known to have acquired this malwarein 2017. But although its use is intended for official bodies, Pegasus it can fall into the hands of anyone,” Velasco warned. Because it is considered weapons, it must have the approval of the Israeli Ministry of Defense for its export.

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Who has Pegasus spied on in Spain?

An investigation of the new yorker in collaboration with the University of Toronto Citizen Lab Institute has uncovered that more than 63 Catalan and Basque pro-independence politicians and activists have been victims of Pegasus between 2015 and 2020. Among them is the president of the Generalitat, Pere Aragones, his predecessors Quim Torra, Carles Puigdemont and Artur Mas, several members of the Government and the leaders of the ANC and Òmnium Cultural. The leader of EH Bildu, Arnaldo Oteguior the deputy of said formation in Congress, Jon Iñarritu, and the lawyers of several defendants in procés caseslike Andreu Van den Eynde, Junqueras’ lawyer, and Gonzalo Boye, Puigdemont’s.

They are not the only ones. An investigation of The country Y Guardian revealed that in 2019 the cell phones of the then president of the Catalan Parliament, Roger Torrent, and ERC deputy Ernest Maragall were infected with the software. Both went Victims of the same Whatsapp security breach by which Aragonès and other politicians have also been affected. The Spanish journalist specializing in the Maghreb was also spied on Ignacio Cembrerowhich directly pointed to Morocco as responsible.

Who is behind espionage in Spain?

Puigdemont and the former vice-president of the Generalitat, Oriol Junqueras, have announced legal action against Spain and specifically against the National Intelligence Center (CNI). Citizen Lab researcher John-Scott Railton, one of those responsible for the investigation, has pointed out that, despite the fact that the investigation has not been able to determine with certainty who is behind this espionage, there are details that “point to several entities within the Spanish State”.

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For his part, the Government He has responded by denying being behind the espionage. It has not clarified, however, if the CNI has spied sovereignist leaders with the Pegasus system because it is a matter of “national security”. Interior assures that neither the Police nor the Civil Guard have that program.

The number of cases in Spain is the largest of all the investigations carried out by Citizen Lab, which also points out that there could be many more victims because their research methods have a limited scope on Android mobiles, the most used in Spain.

What implications does its use have?

From the UN to the European Union, Amnesty International and other organizations around the world have called for its use to be limited or stopped. “The use, sale and transfer of this surveillance technology must be temporarily stopped to prevent further human rights abuses,” said Likhita Banerji, Amnesty International Researcher on Technology and Human Rights.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Chilean Michelle Bachelet, described espionage as “extremely alarming”, for which she has called for a very limited use of this type of surveillance technology.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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