According to a report published by the New York Times on Saturday, several agents from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation worked to enhance the rollout of Pegasus, the notorious phone-hacking program created by Israel’s NSO Group.
What is Pegasus?
Once installed, Pegasus spyware enables the user to fully manage a target’s phone, allowing them to see messages, listen in on calls, and access the phone as a remote listening device.
Significant numbers of human rights activists, journalists, politicians, and corporate executives were reportedly designated as potential targets of NSO’s Pegasus program, which has caused criticism for the Israeli company responsible for its development.
When smartphones are infected with Pegasus, they effectively become portable surveillance tools that can be used to read the target’s messages, browse through the images, or even switch on the user’s camera and microphone secretly.
FBI Purchased Pegasus
The highly classified files, which were provided to the Times in response to a FOIA request, reveal that agency officials had developed guidelines for federal prosecutors concerning how to disclose Pegasus usage in court proceedings and were progressed in organizing to brief FBI heads on the malware.
Additionally, the FBI asserted that Pegasus had never been used to assist an FBI investigation. The FBI only obtained a restricted license for product testing and evaluation, the statement read “There was no functional use in support of any investigation.”
The announcement represents a clear admission by the FBI that it purchased Pegasus, one of the most advanced hacking tools in existence.
The FBI examined NSO’s Phantom software, which has the ability to hack US phones, earlier this year, the press reported. After learning that NSO’s hackers were linked to violations of human rights all around the world and as negative press about the technology spread, the FBI eventually opted against utilizing it.
The New York Times broke the news of the FBI’s acquisition of Pegasus in 2019 while the Trump administration was in control. However, the bureau has still not ruled out the potential of using comparable technology in the future, the report said, citing recent court records.
A legal brief submitted on the bureau’s behalf last month stated that “just because the FBI eventually decided not to deploy the tool in support of criminal investigations does not mean it would not test, evaluate, and potentially deploy other similar tools for gaining access to encrypted communications used by criminals.”
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