SRINAGAR: Kashmir activist and Delhi University teacher, SAR Geelani’s phone was infected by surveillance spyware for two years. The Wire reported that his phone was infected with Israeli software, Pegasus that had sent him click-bait messages from an international number.
“The Wire, in collaboration with Amnesty International’s Security Lab, carried out a forensic analysis of Geelani’s phone, an iPhone still preserved by his family, and can confirm that the phone was compromised on and off for over two years,” the news website reported.
Geelani was teaching Arabic at Delhi University and was arrested in the Parliament attack case. The Supreme Court absolved him of all charges. He died of cardiac arrest later but his family has preserved his phone.
The Wire revelations are based on a leaked list that French non-profit, Forbidden Stories, and Amnesty International’s Security Lab shared with The Wire and 15 other news organisations worldwide.
Among others, these include 40 journalists across India whose phones were accessed by the Israeli Pegasus software that takes away the data and gets access to the phone’s camera and microphone. Delhi based Kashmiri journalist, Muzami Jaleel is also on the list of journalists whose phones had traces of the infection. Iftikhar Gilani, who earlier worked with DNA is also part of the list.
The software turns the phones into surveillance devices by extracting photos, messages, locations, activating their microphone and camera to record them in real-time.
Pegasus according to The Wire is the new global weapon for silencing journalists as nearly 200 journalists around the world have been selected as targets by NSO clients, an investigation released by a global consortium of more than 80 journalists from 17 media outlets, including The Wire.
Pegasus is the hacking software – or spyware –developed, marketed, and licensed to governments around the world by the Israeli company NSO Group with the capability to infect billions of phones running either iOS or Android operating systems.
According to Citizen’s Lab, once Pegasus is installed and the phone is exploited, the attacker has complete access to the target user’s phone.
It then begins contacting the operator’s command and control (C&C) servers to receive and execute operators’ commands and send back the target’s private data, including passwords, contact lists, calendar events, text messages, and live voice calls from popular mobile messaging apps. The operator can even turn on the phone’s camera and microphone to capture activity in the phone’s vicinity.
“It’s unclear if the SMS-based attacks worked, but specific forensic analysis conducted by Amnesty International’s Security Lab show that the phone was compromised by Pegasus on and off between February 2018 and January 2019, and then again from September 2019 to October 2019. At least one of these attacks, Amnesty notes, was carried out through a zero-click iMessage exploit,” the wire reported.
However, the revelations come after almost two years after his death. Geelani, 50, had passed away on October 25, 2019, barely a few months after reading down Article 370 due to a heart attack.
Geelani’s son Sayed Atif Geelani, a Delhi-based lawyer, who had preserved the phone even after his father’s death, told The Wire that the forensic report has only confirmed the fears they had lived under for decades.
“We have always feared that the family is being tracked. For months after his (Geelani’s) death, his phone would notify us about attempts made to hack into his email and phone. This forensic result has only confirmed our suspicion,” Atif said to the Wire.
Besides Geelani, the leaked data has also thrown up the numbers of many members of his group and other international candidates on snooping list.
Also, in another investigative report of The Wire, the phone numbers of over 40 Indian journalists appear on a leaked list of potential targets for surveillance, and forensic tests have confirmed that some of them were successfully snooped upon by an unidentified agency using Pegasus spyware, The Wire claimed it can confirm.
“The leaked data includes the numbers of top journalists at big media houses like the Hindustan Times, including executive editor Shishir Gupta, India Today, Network18, The Hindu and Indian Express,” reported The Wire.
According to Guardian, other journalists who were selected as possible candidates for surveillance by NSO’s clients work for some of the world’s most prestigious media organizations. They include the Wall Street Journal, CNN, the New York Times, Al Jazeera, France 24, Radio Free Europe, Mediapart, El País, Associated Press, Le Monde, Bloomberg, Agence France-Presse, the Economist, Reuters, and Voice of America.
A majority of the numbers identified in the list was geographically concentrated in 10 country clusters: India, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the reports say.
The dire prognosis by the whistle-blower Edward Snowden years back has come true or the belief has been reinforced.
Author of the Permanent Record, Snowden, had said that “I shared with the world evidence proving some governments are building a worldwide surveillance system to secretly track how we live, who we talk to, and what we say,” reported The Washington Post.