By: Talat Mohsin
Several cyber experts have put up online evidence which proves that a computer emergency team working with the Union Ministry of Information and Technology knew about the spyware when it was first reported in May 2019. This shocking evidence emerged a day after the Centre denied having information about the spyware.
A Non-governmental organization named Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) has posted an arch-rival link of a webpage of the CERT, which shows a “buffer overflow vulnerability in WhatsApp.”
On the CERT’s website, the ‘vulnerability’ of the virus was termed as ‘high’. The web page of the CERT where the details of the vulnerability were given under Vulnerability Notes has since been taken down, but the electronic traces of the page still remain.
The incident report contains a link, which directs users to a webpage hackernews.com, which clearly states that “Whatsapp has recently patched a severe vulnerability that was being exploited by attackers to remotely install surveillance malware.” The site clearly states the name of the spyware Pegasus, and also mentioned that it’s discovered, sold and weaponized by Israeli company NSO group.
IFF executive director Apar Gupta said –“An incident report online mentioned NSO group’s malware and it was incumbent upon CERT to investigate the exploitation further since it indicated that the security and privacy of Indian users could have been compromised. WhatsApp is used by millions in India.
There was clearly a lack of proper investigation in dealing with the incident report.” On the incident, cyber expert Srinivas Kodali tweeted- “Remember @IndianCERT is computer emergency response team. It’s an emergency response team and they forgot about the emergency in May with #Whatsapp.” Aditi Agarwal, a senior research executive at Medianama, called out the Government on their denial, tweeting-“So can CERT claim any kind of ignore. I would say know. Can they blame WhatsApp for not informing? Nope. Not just because WhatsApp (did) inform the Govt and the proof is in the now taken down webpage.”
Over two dozen people in India were targeted by spyware in India. This list contains the name of Human Rights Activist Nihal Singh Rathod, Adivasi activist Bela Bhatia, former BBC journalist Shubhranshu Chaudhary among others.