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Telegram founder Pavel Durov, whose contact features on the list of individuals targeted by NSO Group’s client governments by the Pegasus spyware, has said that he was aware at least since 2018 that one of his phone numbers was included in the list of potential targets. The 36-year-old added that he wasn’t worried because since 2011, he had gotten accustomed to assuming that his phones were compromised. Durov was still living in Russia, his place of birth, back then.
In a long note on his Telegram channel, Durov said that these surveillance tools used by governments could hack into any iOS or Android phone, adding there was 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 said.
Drawing attention to the 2013 Edward Snowden — former CIA subcontractor who leaked highly classified information from the National Security Agency — revelations, both Google and Apple were part of the global surveillance programme, he said. Durov added that their participation meant that these tech giants have to implement backdoors into their mobile operating systems. These backdoors, he said, allowed US agencies to gain access to your smartphone and thereby the information on it.
The other major concern with such backdoors, Durov said, was that they could be exploited by just anyone, for they were never exclusive to any party. “So if a US security agency can hack an iOS or Android phone, any other organisation that uncovers these backdoors can do the same,” he said.
And this is exactly what the Israel’s NSO Group has done — selling access to the spying tools that allowed third parties to hack tens of thousands of phones, the Telegram founder said.
While he underlined that anyone hacking into his phone would be “utterly disappointed”, Durov claimed that these surveillance tools were also being used against people far more prominent than him. He then shed light on the fact that the tools were deployed to spy on 14 heads of state. “The existence of backdoors in crucial infrastructure and software creates a huge challenge for humanity,” Durov said, adding that’s why he has been urging governments to act against the Apple-Google duopoly in the smartphone market, force them to open their closed ecosystems and allow for more competition.
Durov said that even though the current market monopolisation lead to increasing costs and violation of 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,” he concluded.
At least 50,000 people, including journalists, human rights activists and judicial authorities, were reportedly targeted by the Pegasus spyware.