Anil Ambani could have been snooped on when the purchase of 36 Rafale aircraft came under the public scanner, and the CBI chief’s number appears soon after he was ousted in a midnight coup.

Anil Ambani smiling in a black suit
news Cyber Security Thursday, July 22, 2021 - 22:33

The latest names that have come out as part of the Pegasus project include that of Reliance’s Anil Ambani, former CBI chief Alok Verma and former CBI officials Rakesh Asthana and AK Sharma. The Wire reported that Anil Ambani could have been snooped on when the purchase of 36 Rafale aircraft came under the public scanner, while the CBI chief’s number appears soon after he was ousted in a midnight coup.

The Wire reported that numbers used by Reliance group Chairman Anil Ambani, Reliance ADA Group corporate communications chief Tony Jesudasan and his wife were part of the leaked list of 50,000 numbers. The report stated that Jesudasan has been known to be a trouble-shooter for the group, and that the numbers appeared in 2018. After the Rafale verdict in December 2018 by the Supreme Court, the numbers reportedly stopped appearing. Journalist Sushant Singh’s number, who extensively covered the Rafale issue, was also earlier reported to be found in the records.

In the case of the CBI chief, The Wire reported that at the time, prior to being ousted, he had the authority to order surveillance. His number was also on a list of at least 10 phones that have signs that they had the spyware on them. In total, the report said that eight phone numbers from Verma’s family alone — including that of his wife, daughter and son-in-law, show up in the records as well.

The numbers of Verma and his family were allegedly removed by the second week of February 2019. Verma had been ousted from the CBI in October 2018. Asthana, who was also removed at the time, is currently the chief of the CRPF.

The mere presence of a phone number in the leaked data does alone not reveal whether a device was infected. Only a digital forensic investigation can determine whether the device in question has been affected by the Pegasus spyware.

Recently, reports of over 50,000 phone numbers suspected to have been targeted for hacking by the spyware Pegasus sent shockwaves across the world. Pegasus was developed by Israeli firm NSO, and is only sold to government agencies. In India, it was reported that over 300 phone numbers belonging to two serving ministers, over 40 journalists, three opposition leaders and one sitting judge, besides scores of business persons and activists could have been targeted. Those on the list published initially include Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, political analyst Prashant Kishor, Union IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, those arrested under sedition charges in the Elgar Parishad case such as Prof Hany Babu, Anand Teltumbde and Rona Wilson, and other activists and journalists. The consortium says it believes that the data indicates the potential targets of NSO’s government clients. However, the source of the leak and how it was authenticated were not disclosed.

The report was published by The Wire and 16 other international publications, including Washington Post, The Guardian and Le Monde, who are media partners to an investigation conducted by a Paris-based media non-profit organisation Forbidden Stories and rights group Amnesty International. The 50,000 phone numbers were obtained by Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International and shared with 16 news publications.

Become a TNM Member for just Rs 999!
You can also support us with a one-time payment.