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Pegasus, the Most Terrifying Spyware with an Ancient Greek Name

Pegasus sculpture
“Spirit Flight.” Detail of a copper weather-vane sculpture of the flying horse Pegasus. Credit: Cluffs / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0

Pegasus, the most terrifying spyware developed by the Israeli cyber-arms firm NSO Group, borrows its name from ancient Greek mythology. Pegasus, the mythical winged divine horse, is one of the most recognized creatures in Greek mythology.

The cyber-surveillance company’s Pegasus spyware has reportedly been used in at least 45 countries worldwide to infect the phones of activists, journalists, and human rights defenders.

This terrifying software can infiltrate your smartphone, collect your data and even listen to you, all without your knowledge. A huge leak in July 2021 revealed 50,000 phone numbers that had been targeted.

Among the devices targeted by Pegasus spyware were those of the President of France Emmanuel Macron, and friends and family of the late Saudi journalist Jamal Kashoggi, in the lead up to his murder in 2018.

Pegasus spyware targets your personal data

As of 2016, Pegasus spyware was capable of reading text messages, tracking calls, collecting passwords, location tracking, accessing the target device’s microphone and camera, and harvesting information from apps.

The Pegasus spyware is a Trojan horse computer virus that can be sent “flying through the air” to infect cell phones. The NSO Group states that it provides “authorized governments with technology that helps them combat terror and crime.”

In 2020, a target list of 50,000 phone numbers leaked to Forbidden Stories, and an analysis revealed the list contained the numbers of leading opposition politicians, human rights activists, journalists, lawyers and other political dissidents.

More than half of the phones inspected by Amnesty International‘s cybersecurity team revealed forensic evidence of the Pegasus spyware. It provides the attacker full access to the targeted smartphone, its data, images, photographs and conversations as well as camera, microphone and geolocation.

The Pegasus media Project

This information was passed along to 17 media organizations under the umbrella name “The Pegasus Project.” Reports started being published by member organizations on July 18, 2021. They revealed notable non-criminal targets and analyzed the practice as a threat to freedom of the press, freedom of speech, dissidents and the democratic opposition.

Two days later 14 heads of state were revealed as former targets of Pegasus spyware. Various parties called for further investigation of the abuses and a limitation on trading such repressive malware. Among them was renegade whistleblower Edward Snowden.

In Greek mythology, Pegasus, the winged horse, is depicted as pure white. Myths about him vary as the Greek myths evolve and reflect progression through successive generations of deities.

Pegasus, the mythological winged horse

In Archaic Greek mythology, Pegasus is the offspring of the Gorgon Medusa, when she was depicted as a mare. In later myths, Pegasus was foaled by Medusa as she was dying, while being decapitated by the hero Perseus.

In Classical Greek mythology, the Olympian god Poseidon is identified as the father of Pegasus. He was caught by the Greek hero Bellerophon near the fountain Peirene with the help of Athena and Poseidon.

Pegasus allowed Bellerophon to ride him in order to defeat the monstrous Chimera, which led to many other exploits.

Bellerophon later fell from the winged horse’s back while trying to reach Mount Olympus, where the deities resided. After that failed attempt, Zeus transformed Pegasus into the eponymous constellation.

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