How Safe Is Your Phone?

How Safe Is Your Phone?

While the media has gone crazy with Pegasus, it is time for you to get updated on what it is and how to stay away from its clutches

As the Pegasus phone-hacking spyware keeps on making media waves around the world, there has been widespread curiosity. People wants to know what exactly it is, and whether any law-abiding common citizen may be a victim. And, overall, everyone is looking for tips to keep their smartphones snoop-free – Pegasus or no Pegasus!

Let us try to address each of these concerns one by one.

What is Pegasus?

Pegasus is a spyware that can be secretly installed on mobile phones, as well as other devices, that run on iOS and Android. It can probably target most versions of those two operating systems. The recent expose has proved that the software can comfortably exploit all recent iOS versions up to iOS 14.6.

Once installed, Pegasus runs random codes to read your text messages, track all phone calls, collect passwords used on the targeted device, track your location, access the microphone and camera of the target device, and gather information from apps installed on the device. Developed by the Israeli cyber-technology firm, NSO Group, the spyware is aptly named after the winged horse Pegasus described in Greek mythology. In a way, it is a Trojan horse that can enter the victims’ phones innocently, and then wreak havoc.

What’s the threat?

Functionally, Pegasus is not a lone invader. It is more of a package of different attackers that target different vulnerabilities in the host device. What makes Pegasus lethal is the fact that some of its triggers are zero-click – meaning they require no interaction on the side of the device owner to continue spying operations. It remains hidden all along, and self-destructs in an attempt to eliminate evidence if unable to communicate with its command-and-control server for over 60 days, or if on the wrong device. Of course, this destruction can also be executed on command.

Like many similar software, Pegasus is an authentic spyware that has its own uses. Such snooping systems are usually used by authorities against criminals and terrorists. The reason that the media is reacting strongly over Pegasus is because there have been allegations of spying on certain very high-profile individuals, and neither the operators nor their motive are quite transparent.

Are you at risk?

Well scary as it may sound, the fact is Pegasus is just another spyware. It might be more efficient than most, but that does not make it special in any way.

Many countries have specific, anti-hacking regulations and generally use of spyware is not allowed except for very sensitive issues like maintaining national security – and that too by the authorities with proper prior approval. Intelligence and military departments are the most likely users. It’s a tool with a purpose, and like any technological innovation it can be misused by bad people.

The question is, do you run the risk of being targeted by such evil operators? If you are, then any spyware is just as bad for you – and that is why everyone must adopt precautionary habits when it comes to digital communication devices. So, instead of worrying over Pegasus, here’s a quick checklist to ensure that you are adopting the best practices when it comes to mobile security.

A nine-point security charter

  • Install all your regulation updates on time and when prompted. It is boring, but a stitch in time saves nine. The manufacturers who developed your operating system keep track of the latest threats and pushes relevant preventive patches relentlessly. Why stop them from doing their work and expose your device to needless risk?
  • Never install anything without thinking. Installation of every app should be a mindful process. Know what the app is for, research and check whether it is authentic, and make sure you really need it. And do not install anything from absolutely unknown websites. At least take the pains of doing some research.
  • Do not carry bloatware and junk apps. Check whatever is already installed on your phone, whether each one is authentic, how necessary they are, and what kind of permissions are they seeking from you to operate. Keeping a bagful of unused apps may turn risky – just like having more doors multiplies the risk of break-ins!
  • Keep your defending barriers in place. Use passwords wherever possible, ensure they are strong, change them periodically or the moment you suspect a compromise – and yes, activate those device locks, however irritating they might be. No use inviting every intruder walking on the street.
  • Be careful with online services. Never keep the auto log-in feature activated. Yes, it is very convenient, but yes, it’s also a huge risk. Anyone can simply open your browser and access all your online accounts. Take the trouble of typing them each time you log-in, and sign out after every session.
  • Notifications on lock-screens are best disabled. What is the use of locking every door and then pasting a notice on your front door listing the names of your bank, your insurer, the high-value showrooms you patronise and so forth? Although the house is locked, the burglar who finds all these details interesting will surely target you sooner or later.
  • As far as possible, never use open Wi-Fi. This is basic, but its importance can never be overstated. Everyone knows the risks, but most of us break this taboo once in a while. Better stick to your phone’s mobile internet connection where there is nothing but a public Wi-Fi. It might be slow, but it’s safe.
  • Plan for the worst. Know how to track your phone if it is lost in the worst case. If your data is REALLY important, set your phone to automatically erase itself after a certain number of incorrect attempts to enter the passcode. Also, both Apple and Google operate “Find my device” services that can locate your phone on a map, and remotely lock or erase it.
  • Always keep a watchful eye on how your phone is behaving. If it has been hacked, chances are you might spot unusual behind-the-scenes activities that had not been undertaken by you. You can also get one of those security apps that monitors your phone for suspicious activities and alert you in time.

All these might seem too much of a bother, but adhering to them dutifully will soon form a habit. After all, when your phone is smart, can you afford to be unsmart?

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