Pegasus revelations: Telegram founder says he was targeted with surveillance since 2018

Telegram’s founder Pavel Durov has revealed that he was aware of the fact that he was on the list of individuals targeted with surveillance and that one of his phone numbers was on the list of potential targets for NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware. The Israeli cybersecurity company has denied that Durov was a target or that anyone whose number was part of the leaked database was a target for Pegasus.

Earlier this week, a series of reports across the world have shown how NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware was used to target journalists, activists, dissidents, ministers, constitutional authorities, across the globe, including in India. Amnesty International also analysed some phones belonging to potential targets and found evidence that many of the devices were infected by Pegasus.

Meanwhile, Durov has written a long note on his personal Telegram channel claiming he knew since 2018 that one of his phone numbers was on the list.

“Since at least 2018, I have been aware that one of my phone numbers was included in a list of potential targets of such surveillance tools (although a source from the NSO Group denies it),” he wrote, adding that this since he was living in Russia he had gotten accustomed to assuming that his phones were compromised.

Durov also asserted that numerous governments are using surveillance tools to hack any iOS and Android phone, and “there is no way to protect your device from it.”

“It doesn’t matter which apps you use, because the system is breached on a deeper level,” he added without offering any further proof.

He also highlighted the claims made by Edward Snowden, who leaked highly classified information from the National Security Agency (NSA) in 2013, that both Google and Apple were part of the global surveillance programme. “The problem with such backdoors is that they are never exclusive to just one party. Anybody can exploit them. So if a US security agency can hack an iOS or Android phone, any other organisation that uncovers these backdoors can do the same. Unsurprisingly, this is exactly what has been taking place: an Israeli company called NSO Group has been selling access to the spying tools that allowed third parties to hack tens of thousands of phones,” he wrote.

It should be noted that this claim of backdoors in all operating systems is not something for which there is conclusive evidence. Both Apple and Google have long insisted that they are committed to user privacy and will not allow backdoors for any surveillance into their software. In fact, while government insist on breaking of end-to-end encryption, tech companies have largely resisted such efforts.

Durov also blamed the Apple-Google duopoly for the spyware problems. “The existence of backdoors in crucial infrastructure and software creates a huge challenge for humanity. That’s why I have been calling upon the governments of the world to start acting against the Apple-Google duopoly in the smartphone market and to force them to open their closed ecosystems and allow for more competition,” he wrote.

The Telegram founder also wrote, “So far, even though the current market monopolisation increases costs and violates privacy and freedom of speech of billions, government officials have been very slow to act. I hope the news that they themselves have been targeted by these surveillance tools will prompt politicians to change their minds.”

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