How to detect Pegasus on Android and iOS? So you can know if your mobile is infected with spyware

The Minister of the Presidency, Relations with the Courts and Democratic Memory Félix Bolaños, assured this Monday that the Government does not know who is behind the intrusion into the mobile phones of the President of the Government, Pedro Sánchez and the Minister of Defense Margarita Robles, and that the report of the National Cryptologic Center has not provided any information about the authorship, although it has insisted on an “external” attack.

Pegasus continues to be talked about in Spain. In fact, it is one of the current ‘hot topics’ in the already tense political environment in our country. The Government of Spain continues to be under a lot of pressure after learning about the espionage of the independence leaders with the Pegasus system in Spain, such as the councilor Roger Torrent and the ERC councilor in Barcelona, ​​Ernest Maragall.

How to detect Pegasus on your Android and iOS mobile

There is a way to find out if someone has used this spyware on a smartphone that we own, as reported by media such as Forbes. It consists of the utility called Mobile Verification Toolkit o MVT whose source code is available on GitHub. Like good malware, it is designed not to be detected by traditional means. And it is that popular antiviruses cannot detect Pegasus, since this malware takes advantage of zero-day vulnerabilities that are unknown to the developers of operating systems and antivirus applications.

MVT Utility

The MVT utility is compatible with Android and iOS and you can download it from this link. The problem is that there are no ready-made standard solutions for quick installation of the application. They need to be compiled for a specific device, which can only be done on a Linux or macOS computer.

What you must do is connect the smartphone you think is infected with Pegasus to a computer with one of these two OS. The utility backs up smartphone data to the computer, scans all data and checks if the device is infected with Pegasus spyware, and informs the user if the information on their device could be compromised and transferred to third parties .

the pegasus story

spyware for hire

Pegasus itself is spyware conceived and created by NSO Group Technologies, orAn Israeli company dedicated to the creation of programs and software for intrusion and surveillance. Its creators defended themselves by pointing out that sell Pegasus to governments and official agencies of the law “to help fight terrorism and crime”. But malware has also been ‘misused’ by terrorist countries, organizations and groups.

In fact, Pegasus was implicated in a 2016 attack on human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor; and in 2018 was used for attack the 12 journalists who were investigating a scandal involving the president of Mexico. According to the researchers, Pegasus has been used in 45 countries to persecute dissidents, journalists and a wide demographic of civilians.

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How does this tool that seems to be taken from the Mr. Robot, Alias ​​or 24 series work? Pegasus is a Spyware-type virus that, once installed on the system, has the power to allow whoever controls it remotely activate the phone’s camera and microphone to be able to record audio, video and take photos. malware too scan emails, messages and can store data such as the location of the mobile. And all this in the simplest way, since the way to enter your mobile is simply by making a call.

And here comes the worst: You don’t have to answer it, simply by receiving it, as security experts and WhatsApp itself have confirmed. In 2019 we learned what Pegasus was capable of exploiting a vulnerability in WhatsApp that came to light when an English lawyer specializing in human rights was attacked by Pegasus.

Spyware takes advantage of this weakness in the app and uses it to its advantage. The attack itself was blocked by WhatsApp, but the number of mobile phones that were hacked due to the exploit in that attack is unknown, which spread in 48 hours and was so potentially dangerous as to launch a global alert.

A price only suitable for governments or terrorists

How much does it cost to get Pegasus services? The figures depend on the sources consulted, but in this 2016 New York Times piece point out that NSO Group prices its surveillance tools based on the number of targets, starting with a flat installation fee of $500,000. To spy on 10 iPhone users, NSO charges government agencies $650,000; $650,000 for 10 Android users; $500,000 for five BlackBerry users; or $300,000 for five Symbian users, plus installation fee, under a commercial proposal.

You can pay for more goals. One hundred extra lenses cost $800,000, 50 extra lenses cost $500,000, An extra 20 cost $250,000 and an extra 10 cost $150,000, according to a business proposal from NSO Group. Thereafter, there is an annual system maintenance fee of 17% of the total price.

NSO Group documents say it is “unlimited access to a target’s mobile devices”. In short, the company says: You can “remotely and covertly collect information about your target’s relationships, location, phone calls, plans and activities, whenever and wherever they are.”

An example of its usefulness: the case of Jeff ‘Amazon’ Bezos

In 2018, ehe smartphone of Jeff Bezos, CEO of the almighty Amazon and media such as the Washington Post, was hacked. But it is not until a year and a half later when the information is known that the Bezos terminal was hacked using a malicious file hidden in a video that came to him through WhatsApp. The real drama has just started, and it is much more complex because an unexpected actor enters: the prince of Saudi Arabia.

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On the same day, January 22, 2020, two UN human rights experts called for Investigate whether Saudi Crown Prince hacked Jeff Bezos’ phone. The rapporteurs had access to the forensic analysis of the Bezos terminal that concludes with a grade of “medium to high confidence” that the phone was hacked on May 1, 2018 thanks to an MP4 video file sent from the personal WhatsApp account of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. A technique that it made use of Pegasus software, as the UN experts later concluded.

This information suggested that The prince is probably involved in Bezos surveillancein an attempt to “influence, and even silence”, Washington Post information on the role of Saudi Arabia and bin Salman himself in the murder of columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi embassy in Istanbul. Almost nothing, suddenly this has gone from being a typical story of a hack of a high-profile businessman to a political plot worthy of Homeland or 24.

But the thing continues, because “at a time when Saudi Arabia was allegedly investigating Khashoggi’s murder and bringing those responsible to justice“, were “conducting clandestinely a massive campaign on the internet” against Bezos and Amazonfor being the owner of the Washington Post.

Agnes Callamard y David Kaye, the UN experts considered that the circumstances and the moment in which it happened are additional reasons to continue investigating whether the prince “ordered, incited or at least knew of the plans and did nothing to prevent” the Khashoggi murder. Similarly, the experts stressed that, if true, this case of espionage using software developed and marketed by a private company and transferred to a government without judicial control of its use is a concrete example of the danger of the unrestricted sale of this type of technology.

“Surveillance with digital instruments must be subject to the most rigorous control of judicial authorities and national and international export control regulations so that its abuse is not easy and thus protect individuals. This highlights the urgent need for a moratorium on the worldwide sale and transfer of private espionage technology.”Callamard and Kaye concluded.

The UN prohibits its employees from using WhatsApp for Pegasus

Become one of the 3 most used apps in the world, About two billion people use WhatsApp per month, and for this reason it is so appreciated among hackers and cybercriminals: Because it has the ability to spread an attack as vast as it is viral. But at the same time it shows that it is not safe, because if you can hack someone from the profile of Jeff Bezos, one of the main fortunes and entrepreneurs in the world today, they can reach anyone.

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For this reason, the policy of the United Nations Organization has been blunt: Prohibit their officers from using WhatsApp to communicate, as “not supported as a secure mechanism”. This was said by a UN representative, Farhan Haqadding that the directive was made official among UN officials in June 2019, almost three years ago:Senior UN officials have been instructed not to use WhatsApp.”

Of course, WhatsApp, which is owned by Meta (formerly Facebook), responded to the UN ban by pointing out that “Each private message is protected by end-to-end encryption to help prevent WhatsApp or others from seeing those chats.”. The technology used for encryption is “highly rated by security experts and remains the best available to people around the world.”

The fact that spyware is once again in the news several years later, now that the European Parliament has announced that it will study cases of espionage with Pegasus in European countries, including that of the pro-independence leaders, does nothing more than highlight the current world panorama, in the one that as if it were an extrapolation from the Berlin of the mid-80s, everyone spies on everyone.

Why? Well, because they have the money to buy software like Pegasus, the means, and the perfect excuse to use it: for the sake of the usual National security”.

Have I been spied on with Pegasus?

As we have seen, given how much it costs to buy a Pegasus ‘license’, in general, for a user to be infected with Pegasus, they must be important or part of the close circle of someone who is in the crosshairs of a government, a terrorist organization or whoever can afford the money it’s worth.

But in the current era, in which digital and online espionage is part of the daily operations of dozens of government information and security agencies, it would not be so unusual -according to your work and/or circle of contacts and friends- that you did the test with the MVT utility and you will find yourself with the fashionable spyware on your mobile. What would you do if you do and discover Pegasus on your smartphone?