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The Sunday Read: 'The Battle for the World’s Most Powerful Cyberweapon'

The Daily

The New York Times

News, Daily News

4.597.8K Ratings

🗓️ 27 February 2022

⏱️ 56 minutes

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Ronen Bergman and Mark Mazzetti investigate Pegasus, an Israeli spying tool that was acquired for use by the F.B.I., and which the United States government is now trying to ban. Pegasus is used globally. For nearly a decade, NSO, an Israeli firm, had been selling this surveillance software on a subscription basis to law-enforcement and intelligence agencies around the world, promising to consistently and reliably crack the encrypted communications of any iPhone or Android smartphone. The software has helped the authorities capture drug lords, thwart terrorist plots, fight organized crime, and, in one case, take down a global child-abuse ring, identifying suspects in more than 40 countries. But it has been prone to abuses of power: The Mexican government deployed Pegasus against journalists and political dissidents; and it was used to intercept communications with Jamal Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post, whom Saudi operatives killed and dismembered in Istanbul in 2018. Cyberweapons are here to stay — but their legacy is still to be determined.

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Hi, my name is Ronan Bergman, I am an investigative reporter for the New York Times magazine.


I wrote a story with my colleague Mark Mazzetti about one of the most powerful and some would


say notorious weapons on earth.


This weapon can intercept the means of communication used by a vast amount of mankind, Android and


iOS on smartphones and it does it better than any other intelligence agency in the world.


The weapons name is Pegasus and it was made by an Israeli company, it's called NSO,


probably the most successful cyber company in the world.


So traditionally, law enforcement and intelligence agencies could look at the communication


between two individuals.


What they needed to do was to look at the physical channel of communication between them, like


copyrights or telephone or fiber optics or satellites.


But with the introduction of smartphones, along with instant messaging apps like Signal


or WhatsApp or Telegram, using military-grade encryption, suddenly looking at the pipeline


was just not enough because you could look at the communications but it would take a super


computer years to figure out what was actually said or exchange.


NSO was the first to understand the business potential here.


With Pegasus, they developed a way to hack a phone, get control over it and grab the data


before it was encrypted.


And that has become the key to intelligence and law enforcement agencies that wanted


to catch pedophiles and drag traffickers or terrorists because there was no other way


to look at their communication.


Pegasus also became popular with tyrants and dictators who wanted to exploit it against


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