Modi Government Planted Spyware in Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan's Smartphone

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has been the target of the Modi government's cyber attacks, according to a recently released Project Pegasus report.  The Indian government has neither confirmed nor denied the report.  The focus of the report is the use of the Israeli-made spyware by about  a dozen governments to target politicians, journalists and activists. The users of the Pegasus software include governments of  Bahrain, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, India, Mexico, Hungary, Azerbaijan, Togo and Rwanda.    

This is not the first time that Pakistan has figured prominently as India's favorite target for cyber hacks. Last year, a report in The Sunday Guardian of India said: "Mobile phones of around 30 Pakistani government servants, who include serving army generals, officials attached with the ISI and senior bureaucrats, were hacked into by using Pegasus spying software during April and May 2019". 

In addition to the use of spyware, the Indian government has been engaged in a massive, long-running disinformation campaign targeting Pakistan. EU Disinfo Lab, an NGO that specializes in disinformation campaigns, has found that India is carrying out a massive 15-year-long disinformation campaign to hurt Pakistan. The key objective of the Indian campaign as reported in "Indian Chronicles" is as follows: "The creation of fake media in Brussels, Geneva and across the world and/or the repackaging and dissemination via ANI and obscure local media networks – at least in 97 countries – to multiply the repetition of online negative content about countries in conflict with India, in particular Pakistan".  After the disclosure of India's anti-Pakistan propaganda campaign, Washington-based US analyst Michael Kugelman tweeted: "The scale and duration of the EU/UN-centered Indian disinformation campaign exposed by @DisinfoEU is staggering. Imagine how the world would be reacting if this were, say, a Russian or Chinese operation".  

Pegasus Spyware Explained. Source: The Guardian 

Pegasus is spying software made by NSO Group, an Israeli company whose exports are regulated and controlled by the Israeli government. It uses several different messaging apps to plant itself in mobile phones. Last year, Apple issued a warning to its customers of a "zero-click" version of the Pegasus software. It does not require the phone user to click on any links or messages for the spyware to take control of the device. Once installed, it can read and export any information or extract any file from SMS messages, address books, call history, calendars, emails and internet browsing histories.   

The Israeli spyware will likely inspire other software developers elsewhere to copy and improve it, contributing to a proliferation of such hacking and spying tools around the world. The governments and officials who use it to target others will eventually become targets themselves, unless the nations of the world agree to some norms of internationally accepted cyber behavior. It's high time to think about it. 

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Comment by Riaz Haq on July 20, 2021 at 10:14am

Secured messaging app being developed for govt officials: #Pakistan #IT minister. 'Beep Pakistan’ app is undergoing in-house trial, will be launched within few months. It will be mandatory to use the app for official purpose. #Pegasus #ImranKhan #Spyware https://www.thenews.com.pk/latest/866845-secured-messaging-app-deve...


Federal Minister for Information Technology and Telecommunications Syed Aminul Haq on Tuesday said that his ministry has developed "a secured and seamless" messaging app for the government officials.

In a statement Tuesday, Aminul Haq said that his ministry has developed a digital messaging app named 'Beep Pakistan' for a secured official communication in the country.

He maintained that the app will initially provide a secured chat and audio call facilities, adding that video call facility will also be available on the app soon.

The minister said that the app is aimed at providing government officials a safe communication platform.

According to the Ministry of IT and Telecom, ‘Beep Pakistan’ app was undergoing in-house trial, adding that the app will be launched within few months. It will be mandatory for all the government employees to use the app for official purpose.

It is pertinent to mention here that India had targeted a phone which was earlier in Prime Minister Imran Khan's use through an Israeli firm's malware, a global investigation had revealed, igniting fears of widespread privacy and rights abuses.


As reported by an independent Israeli publication Haaretz, several Pakistani officials, Kashmiri freedom fighters, Indian Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, and even an Indian supreme court judge had been targeted, the publication said.

Sources had informed Geo News that India tried to tap the Federal Cabinet members' calls and messages through the spyware, prompting Pakistan to develop new software for its federal ministers.

Following the development, a high-level meeting of the civil and military leadership had been called which would decide a future course of action against India's spying attempt.


Comment by Riaz Haq on July 22, 2021 at 6:46pm

Hours after his sudden firing by #Modi & #Shah, #India's Central Bureau of Investigation (#CBI) Chief Alok Verma, his family and 2 other senior CBI officials were targeted for surveillance with #Pegasus #spyware made by #Israel's #NSOGroup https://thewire.in/government/pegasus-project-chronology-samajhiye-... via @thewire_in

The midnight coup in the CBI came barely two days after Verma ordered the filing of a criminal case against Asthana, then special director in the Bureau, accusing him of corruption.

Given Asthana’s proximity to Modi, the case, registered on October 21, 2018 – which ironically depended on (lawful) phone intercepts and apparently yielded a lot of sensitive material – sent alarm bells ringing at the highest levels of the government. Two days later, Asthana filed a complaint against Verma with the Central Vigilance Commission.



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‘Chronology Samajhiye’: Hours After Midnight Coup, CBI Chief Alok Verma Entered Surveillance Zone
Leaked list contains numbers of Alok Verma and family, and of Rakesh Asthana, against whom the CBI had filed a case, triggering alarm bells at the highest levels of Modi government

Hours after Prime Minister Narendra Modi acted to oust Alok Verma from his post as head of the Central Bureau of Investigation at midnight on October 23, 2018, an unidentified Indian agency known to be a user of Pegasus spyware made a note of three telephone numbers registered in his name.

For India’s top law enforcement official, this was a remarkable reversal of fortune.

Until his peremptory termination despite having three months of tenure to go, Verma had enjoyed the authority to order the surveillance of suspects – under norms prescribed by law.

But unknown to him at the time, the blow the Modi government delivered that night was accompanied by a second sucker punch: someone with the keys to India’s hush-hush spyware deployment system received authorisation to add Verma’s numbers to an extensive list of persons of interest selected for surveillance, The Wire has established.

The Wire investigated several hundred India numbers from a leaked database comprising 50,000 numbers believed to be linked to potential targets of Pegasus. Forbidden Stories, a French media non-profit, accessed and shared the database with a consortium of 15 other international media partners.

Along with Verma, the personal telephone numbers of his wife, daughter and son-in-law would eventually get placed on the list too, making it a total of 8 numbers from this one family.

Also added to the list of numbers at the same time as Verma were two other senior CBI officials, Rakesh Asthana and A.K. Sharma.

Both men were added on to the database about an hour after their former boss. Asthana was also removed from the CBI on the night of October 23, 2018; he is currently head of the Border Security Force (BSF). Sharma was divested that night of the crucial charge he held – head of the policy division – but remained in the CBI till January 2019, when he was transferred out. He retired from government earlier this year.

The numbers of Asthana, Sharma, Verma and his family members figure in the leaked database for a short period. By the second week of February, 2019, by which time Verma had finally retired from government service, this entire cluster of persons ceased being of interest to the government agency which had added them to the list.

NSO insists the leaked database has nothing to do with the company or with Pegasus. Verma was unwilling to participate in this story, so forensics on the telephones linked to him – the only way of conclusively establishing whether they were targeted or infected with Pegasus – could not be carried out.

Comment by Riaz Haq on July 23, 2021 at 7:55am

#Pakistan seeks #UN probe of #India's use of #Pegasus spyware, made & licensed by #Israeli company #NSO. It's been used in attempted and successful hacks of 37 smartphones belonging to #ImranKhan, #Indian journos, govt officials & human rights activists. https://reut.rs/3zrsyaF

Pakistan called on the United Nations on Friday to investigate whether India used Israeli-made Pegasus spyware to spy on public figures including Prime Minister Imran Khan.

The Pakistani leader’s phone number was on a list of what an investigation by a group of 17 international media organisations and Amnesty International said were potential surveillance targets for countries that bought the spyware.

Pakistan’s foreign office issued a statement accusing India of “state-sponsored, continuing and widespread surveillance and spying operations in clear breach of global norms of responsible state behaviour.”

“In view of the gravity of these reports, we call on the relevant UN bodies to thoroughly investigate the matter, bring the facts to light, and hold the Indian perpetrators to account,” it said.

India’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the statement.

The Indian government has already faced calls by domestic political opponents to investigate allegations of spying on officials including the main opposition leader, Rahul Gandhi.

Delhi has not responded to the allegations.

The investigation published by the media organisations on Sunday said spyware made and licensed by Israeli company NSO had been used in attempted and successful hacks of 37 smartphones belonging to journalists, government officials and human rights activists.

NSO has said its product was intended only for use by vetted government intelligence and law enforcement agencies to fight terrorism and crime.


Arch-rivals and neighbours, Pakistan and India have fought two of their three wars over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, which both claim in full.

The statement by Pakistan’s foreign office said Delhi had long been using such tactics in Indian-administered Kashmir, an accusation to which India did not immediately respond.

“We are closely following these revelations and will bring the Indian abuses to the attention of appropriate global platforms,” the statement said.

Comment by Riaz Haq on July 24, 2021 at 8:11pm

Netflix's Playbook for Tyrants Has a Real-World Mimic in #India. In fact, modern India has one advantage the Netflix six did not. I’m speaking of #spyware technology of the winged-horse variety. #Modi #Pegasus #BJP #hindutvaterror https://thewire.in/politics/netflix-how-to-become-a-tryant via @thewire_in

by Karan Thapar

I don’t watch many Netflix programmes but a series recommended by my cousin Mala Singh has struck me like a bolt of lightning. Called How to Become a Tyrant, it presents what it calls “a playbook for absolute power”. Much of it is tongue-in-cheek, yet it’s based on the actual tactics and strategies used by Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, Mao Zedong, Muammar Gaddafi, Kim Il-sung, Idi Amin and Saddam Hussein. So if you take it seriously, it tells you what you must do if you aspire to be India’s tanashah. And the remarkable thing is it feels uncannily like the country we’re living in and the politics we’re subjected to. Read on and see if you agree.

First, if you want to be a dictator, you need to be a particular type of person. For a start, you must be or, at least, present yourself as, one of the people. Hitler was a corporal, Mussolini the son of a blacksmith. As the commentary puts it: “A man who shares your dreams can fulfil them.” So a chaiwala will do very nicely.

The would-be dictator must also believe in himself. The series claims “a megalomaniacal belief in your abilities convinces others of them”. So whether it’s the mystical power of taalis and thalis or the claim a single act of demonetisation can eliminate corruption, if you are convinced of it then you can be sure an awful lot of others will also agree.

However, our putative dictator needs one further character quality: the gift of speech or, actually, the more important capacity to attract attention. Hitler’s pencil-brush moustache was his defining feature. It was unmistakably him. But a flowing white beard might do as well. Hitler, we’re told, was a natural-born adman. The Swastika, it’s claimed, was the most striking symbol ever created. If that’s true, the performance we first saw at Madison Square Gardens and the penchant for clever alliteration, acronyms and rhymes is clearly an enormous asset.

Now, if these are the qualities that can define a potential tyrant, there are a few others he needs to attract a firm and loyal following. First, the promise that he can create a better world for everyone. It’s not necessary to succeed – few tyrants have – but the promise must remain evergreen and the belief you’re steadily getting closer to delivery must be unquestioned. After all, you won’t become a tyrant if you’re associated with ‘burre din’.

But this promise on its own is not enough. Our tyrant-in-the-making must also be seen as the only man who can fulfil it. He must, therefore, be acknowledged not just as the fount of all wisdom but also the fount of all virtue. So he needs to whip up a cult of personality. With the right number of bhakts, that’s quite easily done.

In normal times this should be enough to corral the flock behind the shepherd but, sometimes, even sheep can go astray. So it’s a good idea to create an enemy to keep them in line. Hitler found one in the Jews, Idi Amin in Ugandan-Asians and Gaddafi in Italian-Libyans. Our minorities could neatly fit this purpose. The Muslims, for example, at 14% of the population, are large enough to be falsely painted as a threat yet small enough to be easily kept in their place.


Every now and then, an external enemy also helps. Saddam Hussein chose Iran, Kim Il-sung South Korea, Hitler France and Germany, and Stalin most of the rest of the world. Little Pakistan next door would be perfect for us. The problem is the support it gets from China. If the enemy you choose is stronger than you, things could unravel pretty quickly. Still, if you can strike at Balakot and the only price you pay is a MiG-21, the audience at home will keep smiling.

Finally, tyrants need to be prepared for the worst.

Comment by Riaz Haq on July 25, 2021 at 7:30am

Indian Journalist Swati Caturvedi: #Israel is helping #Modi undermine #India's democracy. Why Israel must shut down sales of #Pegasus #spyware, and why authoritarian cowards troll and intimidate - but they won't silence me. #BJP #Hindutva #Islamophobia https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-i-was-targeted-by-nso-...

India loves to describe herself as the world’s largest democracy, and Israel as the only democracy in the Middle East. Yet opaque officials and executives in both countries have come together in a dark dance against democracy.

Indian journalists, top political leaders, judges and civil servants sworn to protect our constitution were subjected to an intrusive surveillance campaign, a "hijacking" of our phones, by military grade surveillance spyware sold by the Israeli company NSO.

Comment by Riaz Haq on July 26, 2021 at 4:20pm

#Disinformation Industry is Booming. Abhay Aggarwal, head of #Toronto-based CEO of #disinfo company "Press Monitor", says that his company’s services are used by the #Indian government. Disinfo campaigns have recently been found promoting #BJP #Modi https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/25/world/europe/disinformation-soci...

Private firms, straddling traditional marketing and the shadow world of geopolitical influence operations, are selling services once conducted principally by intelligence agencies.

They sow discord, meddle in elections, seed false narratives and push viral conspiracies, mostly on social media. And they offer clients something precious: deniability.

“Disinfo-for-hire actors being employed by government or government-adjacent actors is growing and serious,” said Graham Brookie, director of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, calling it “a boom industry.”

Similar campaigns have been recently found promoting India’s ruling party, Egyptian foreign policy aims and political figures in Bolivia and Venezuela.

Mr. Brookie’s organization tracked one operating amid a mayoral race in Serra, a small city in Brazil. An ideologically promiscuous Ukrainian firm boosted several competing political parties.

In India, dozens of government-run Twitter accounts have shared posts from India Vs Disinformation, a website and set of social media feeds that purport to fact-check news stories on India.

India Vs Disinformation is, in reality, the product of a Canadian communications firm called Press Monitor.

Nearly all the posts seek to discredit or muddy reports unfavorable to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, including on the country’s severe Covid-19 toll. An associated site promotes pro-Modi narratives under the guise of news articles.

A Digital Forensic Research Lab report investigating the network called it “an important case study” in the rise of “disinformation campaigns in democracies.”

A representative of Press Monitor, who would identify himself only as Abhay, called the report completely false.

He specified only that it incorrectly identified his firm as Canada-based. Asked why the company lists a Toronto address, a Canadian tax registration and identifies as “part of Toronto’s thriving tech ecosystem,” or why he had been reached on a Toronto phone number, he said that he had business in many countries. He did not respond to an email asking for clarification.

A LinkedIn profile for Abhay Aggarwal identifies him as the Toronto-based chief executive of Press Monitor and says that the company’s services are used by the Indian government.
A set of pro-Beijing operations hint at the field’s capacity for rapid evolution.

Since 2019, Graphika, a digital research firm, has tracked a network it nicknamed “Spamouflage” for its early reliance on spamming social platforms with content echoing Beijing’s line on geopolitical issues. Most posts received little or no engagement.

In recent months, however, the network has developed hundreds of accounts with elaborate personas. Each has its own profile and posting history that can seem authentic. They appeared to come from many different countries and walks of life.

Graphika traced the accounts back to a Bangladeshi content farm that created them in bulk and probably sold them to a third party.

The network pushes strident criticism of Hong Kong democracy activists and American foreign policy. By coordinating without seeming to, it created an appearance of organic shifts in public opinion — and often won attention.

The accounts were amplified by a major media network in Panama, prominent politicians in Pakistan and Chile, Chinese-language YouTube pages, the left-wing British commentator George Galloway and a number of Chinese diplomatic accounts.

A separate pro-Beijing network, uncovered by a Taiwanese investigative outlet called The Reporter, operated hundreds of Chinese-language websites and social media accounts.

Comment by Riaz Haq on August 12, 2021 at 11:19am

#Twitter locks account of #India's largest opposition party. Rohan Gupta, the head of #socialmedia for #Congress, alleged that Twitter had taken the step at the direction of the ruling #BJP. #Modi #Hindutva #Islamophobia_in_india https://tcrn.ch/3iBzY5E via @techcrunch

Indian National Congress wrote about the Twitter episode on Facebook Thursday.

“When our leaders were put in jails, we were not scared then why would we be afraid of closing our Twitter accounts now. We are Congress, this is the message of the people, we will fight, we will keep fighting. If it is a crime to raise our voice to get justice for the rape victim girl, then we will do this crime a hundred times. Jai Hind… Satyamev Jayate,” it said.

Rohan Gupta, the head of social media for Congress, alleged that Twitter had taken the step at the direction of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, adding that the firm had also suspended profiles of several of the party’s senior leaders.

In a statement, a Twitter spokesperson said the company’s rules are enforced judiciously and impartially for everyone on their service.

“We have taken proactive action on several hundred Tweets that posted an image that violated our Rules, and may continue to do so in line with our range of enforcement options. Certain types of private information carry higher risks than others, and our aim is always to protect individuals’ privacy and safety. We strongly encourage everyone on the service to familiarise themselves with the Twitter Rules and report anything they believe is in violation,” the spokesperson added.

The locking of the Indian National Congress’ account has prompted some new criticism for the American firm. “We strongly condemn the blocking of the accounts of the Indian National Congress and senior leaders of the Congress party,” tweeted Derek O’ Brien, from the All India Trinamool Congress party.

Comment by Riaz Haq on August 15, 2021 at 12:57pm

A small #US #software maker accuses #China’s #Huawei in a lawsuit of forcing it to build a ‘back door’ into a sensitive surveillance project in #Pakistan . Huawei denies the claim.


https://www.wsj.com/articles/huawei-accused-in-suit-of-installing-d...


A long-running dispute between Huawei Technologies Co. and a small U.S.-based contractor has escalated to U.S. federal court, with the contractor alleging Huawei stole its technology and pressured it to build a “back door” into a sensitive law-enforcement project in Pakistan.

The contractor, Buena Park, Calif.-based Business Efficiency Solutions LLC, or BES, says in a lawsuit filed Wednesday in California district court that Huawei required it to set up a system in China that gives Huawei access to sensitive information about citizens and government officials from a safe-cities surveillance project in Pakistan’s second-largest city of Lahore.

Muhammad Kamran Khan, chief operating officer of the Punjab Safe Cities Authority, which oversees the Lahore project, said the authority has begun looking into BES’s allegations.

“Our team is examining the accusations and sought an explanation from Huawei,” Mr. Khan said in an interview. “We have also put a data security check on Huawei after this issue.”

“So far, there has been no evidence of any data stealing by Huawei,” he said.

A Huawei spokeswoman said the company doesn’t comment on ongoing legal cases. But she added, “Huawei respects the intellectual property of others, and there is no evidence Huawei ever implanted any back door in our products.”

In comments to The Wall Street Journal last September, Huawei acknowledged setting up a separate version of the Lahore system in China, but said it was only a test version that was “physically isolated from the customer’s live network.” This made it “impossible for Huawei to extract data from the customer’s live network.”

Pakistan’s foreign ministry didn’t respond to requests for comment.

U.S. officials have long alleged Huawei gear could enable Chinese espionage in the countries that install it. Huawei has repeatedly said its gear is safe and that it would never spy on behalf of any government.

The allegations in the suit stem from a long-running legal dispute between the companies. Huawei hired BES to provide software and other services to help it win the rights to build Lahore’s safe-city project in 2016. It eventually beat out Western competitors including Motorola Solutions and Nokia Corp. with its bid of $150 million, according to the suit, in which BES is represented by lawyers from Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP.

The relationship soured, and Huawei sued BES in Pakistan, where BES also sued Huawei. Those proceedings are ongoing. BES is no longer operational and has no revenue.

Comment by Riaz Haq on August 15, 2021 at 12:58pm

A small #US #software maker accuses #China’s #Huawei in a lawsuit of forcing it to build a ‘back door’ into a sensitive surveillance project in #Pakistan . Huawei denies the claim.


https://www.wsj.com/articles/huawei-accused-in-suit-of-installing-d...


Huawei is a leader in safe-cities projects—citywide surveillance systems marketed to governments as crime-fighting tools that often make use of facial-recognition cameras and other high-tech capabilities. The projects have drawn scrutiny from some governments and rights groups, who say they are used to export China’s surveillance practices. Huawei says its projects improve public safety and says it has built safe-cities systems in hundreds of cities around the world.

Pakistan has signed more agreements for Huawei safe-city projects than any other country, according to research by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

BES’s lawsuit says that Huawei’s alleged back door was located in a database that consolidated sensitive information—including national ID card records, foreigner registrations, tax records and criminal records—for law enforcement. The system is called the Data Exchange System, or DES, according to the lawsuit.

BES says in the suit that after it installed the DES in Lahore, Huawei demanded in 2017 that it install a duplicate DES in the eastern Chinese city of Suzhou that would give Huawei direct access to the data being gathered in Pakistan.

Before building the Suzhou system, BES says in the suit it asked Huawei to obtain approval from Pakistani authorities.

“We want to insure that PPIC3 has no objection in transfer of this technology outside of PPIC3 for security reasons,” Mr. Nawaz wrote in an email to Huawei officials attached to the lawsuit. “Please get an approval from PPIC3, in writing, prior to us performing this function.”

PPIC3 is the acronym for the Pakistani command center that oversees the Lahore project.

According to the lawsuit, Huawei initially said it wasn’t necessary to get approval for what it called a test and threatened to withhold payments and terminate its agreements with BES if the contractor didn’t build the system.

Later, the lawsuit says, Huawei told BES it had indeed received Pakistani approval, and BES went ahead with the installation in Suzhou.

Mr. Nawaz said in an interview that Huawei refused to show evidence of Pakistani approval and that BES installed the alleged back door under duress. The lawsuit alleges that “Huawei-China uses the proprietary DES system as a back door from China into Lahore to gain access, manipulate, and extract sensitive data important to Pakistan’s national security.”


Adrian Nish, the London-based head of threat intelligence at BAE Systems Applied Intelligence, a unit of BAE Systems PLC, said it isn’t uncommon for a vendor to build a duplicate version of a system in-house for testing while it is under development, but such duplicates shouldn’t be connected to the actual system.

“Those two systems should not talk to each other,” he said.

Comment by Riaz Haq on August 15, 2021 at 12:58pm

How the NSA bugged Cisco's routers

https://www.infoworld.com/article/2608141/snowden--the-nsa-planted-...

Much has been made of industrial espionage by China, and the U.S. government has repeatedly warned businesses not to trust technologies purchased from that country. Maybe the Chinese and other governments are the ones that should be issuing warnings.

"The NSA routinely receives -- or intercepts -- routers, servers, and other computer network devices being exported from the U.S. before they are delivered to the international customers," Greenwald writes. "The agency then implants backdoor surveillance tools, repackages the devices with a factory seal, and sends them on. The NSA thus gains access to entire networks and all their users."

Routers, switches, and servers made by Cisco are booby-trapped with surveillance equipment that intercepts traffic handled by those devices and copies it to the NSA's network, the book states. Greenwald notes that there is no evidence that Cisco or other companies were aware of the program.

"We've stated previously that Cisco does not work with any government to weaken our products for exploitation," a Cisco spokesman told the Wall Street Journal. "We would, of course, be deeply concerned with anything that could damage the integrity of our products or our customers' networks."

Apart from any concerns you might have about privacy, this kind of publicity is very bad for U.S. business. Why would you buy a product that handles sensitive corporate or government data if you thought the device was bugged?

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