Pegasus is widely regarded as the most effective and sought-after cyber-surveillance system on the market. The system’s creator, the NSO Group, a private corporation headquartered in Israel, is not shy about proclaiming its ability to thwart terrorists and criminals. “Thousands of people in Europe owe their lives to hundreds of our company employees,” NSO’s cofounder declared in 2019. This bold assertion may be true, at least in part, but it’s by no means the whole story.
NSO’s Pegasus system has not been limited to catching bad guys. It’s also been used to spy on hundreds, and maybe thousands, of innocent people around the world: heads of state, diplomats, human rights defenders, political opponents, and journalists.
This spyware is as insidious as it is invasive, capable of infecting a private cell phone without alerting the owner, and of doing its work in the background, in silence, virtually undetectable. Pegasus can track a person’s daily movement in real time, gain control of the device’s microphones and cameras at will, and capture all videos, photos, emails, texts, and passwords—encrypted or not. This data can be exfiltrated, stored on outside servers, and then leveraged to blackmail, intimidate, and silence the victims. Its full reach is not yet known. “If they’ve found a way to hack one iPhone,” says Edward Snowden, “they’ve found a way to hack all iPhones.”
Meticulously reported and masterfully written, Pegasus shines a light on the lives that have been turned upside down by this unprecedented threat and exposes the chilling new ways authoritarian regimes are eroding key pillars of democracy: privacy, freedom of the press, and freedom of speech.