New Delhi: Indian investigative reporter Anand Mangnale’s phone was likely infected with Pegasus spyware, Reuters reported a forensics expert as saying.
Mangnale’s phone showed a pattern of suspicious crashes that matched previously known intrusions by Pegasus, forensics firm iVerify told Reuters.
Its founder Rocky Cole told the news agency he could say “with high confidence that [Mangnale’s] phone was attacked with Pegasus”.
Mangnale was also one of the roughly two dozen Indians who received warnings from Apple on October 31 that “state-sponsored attackers” may be targeting their iPhones.
Although Apple did not say which state may have sponsored the attacks, the profiles of those targeted – mostly opposition leaders and some journalists – led to suspicion that the Union government was behind them.
Mangnale is South Asia editor for the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), a global network of investigative journalists.
Along with fellow OCCRP journalists Ravi Nair and N.B.R. Arcadio, Mangnale reported in August that the Adani group used opaque offshore funds based in Mauritius to inflate the valuation of its group companies.
According to OCCRP’s report, the investors turned out to have “widely reported ties to the group’s majority shareholders, the Adani family”.
The group’s chairman Gautam Adani is perceived as having benefited from close ties his to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
OCCRP co-founder Drew Sullivan told Reuters that the use of Pegasus on Mangnale’s phone was “unacceptable and outrageous”.
“Whatever government is spying on the reporters, there’s no plausible explanation for that other than political gain,” he added.
It has been alleged that the Union government has used Pegasus, which is made by Israeli cybersecurity firm NSO Group, against its critics.
Users of the spyware are able to remotely hack into smartphones and gain access to their contents and functions, including the microphone and camera.
The government has neither confirmed nor denied its use of Pegasus.
Solicitor general Tushar Mehta said during Supreme Court arguments in 2021 that that the government cannot be made to answer whether or not it uses the spyware for this would alert terrorists and compromise national security.
The top court had noted that in the absence of any “specific denial” of the use of Pegasus by the Union government, the court had no option but to set up an independent committee to probe the matter.
However, the then-Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana noted in August last year that the Union government “did not cooperate” with the committee’s investigation.