Pegasus software has been used to spy on Spanish politicians. / REUTERS

What is the Pegasus software that has spooked everybody ?

The expensive Israeli software has been in the headlines all week after being used to spy on Spanish politicians


In the last couple of weeks the whole of Spain has been talking about a piece of very expensive software designed by an Israeli company to secretly extract information from a mobile phone.

The makers, NSO Group, are even subject to export control by the Israeli government as the software - or more accurately malware, for the harm it can do - is classified as a cyberweapon.

The Pegasus malware is said to be sold only to national governments who have proved they uphold democratic values, although more authoritarian regimes have been shown to have it. Access for the general public is near impossible.

It allows data, such as photos and files, to be copied from phones without the user knowing and without leaving any trace that it happened for technical experts to find.

Some 2.6 gigabytes were said to have been taken from the prime minister's personal phone the first time it was hacked last May - equivalent, for example, to a quarter of the information held on the Wikipedia website. On the second attempt, 130 megabytes were taken. In the case of the defence minister, only nine megabytes were taken.

The main difference to traditional spyware is that the owner of a phone does not have to click on an infected file for the virus to download.