Notorious ‘Pegasus’ Spyware Facing Judgment Day | John Notting

IIf you’re putting together a list of the most toxic tech companies, Facebook social networking site – Oddly enough – will not come out on top. The first place belongs to NSO, which is a costume that most people have probably never heard of. Wikipedia tells us that NSO . Group is an Israeli technology company known primarily for its Pegasus-owned spyware, which is able to remotely monitor smartphones with a single click.”

Pause for a moment at this phrase: “Monitor smartphones without a remote tap.” Most smartphone users assume that a hacker’s ability to hack their device depends on the user doing something careless or naive – clicking on a web link, or opening an attachment. In most cases they will be right in this assumption. But Pegasus can enter without the user doing anything undesirable. Once inside, it turns everything on the device into an open book for whoever spread the malware.

This makes it cool enough. But the other thing worth noting is that it can infect An apple Iphone. This is important because iPhones have, traditionally, been relatively secure devices and are often the smartphone of choice for politicians, investigative journalists, human rights activists, and dissidents in authoritarian countries.

Pegasus is so powerful that it is classified as ammunition, and as such, requires permission from the Israeli government before it can be sold to foreign customers. And these agents, it seems, must be governments. It is not available as a consumer product. (The company insists it is only intended for use against criminals and terrorists.)

And it’s not cheap. We don’t know the current price, but in 2016 it was apparently NSO Imposing fees on government agencies $650,000 for the ability to spy on 10 iPhone users, plus a $500,000 setup fee. It is believed that government agencies in the United Arab Emirates and Mexico were among the early clients of the NSO, but I believe that there is now no authoritarian or authoritarian country anywhere in the world that is not on the books of the company, despite the claim of the NSO that it checks the human rights record of its clients before selling it to them. And those governments – it can be assumed – are making ugly and predictable uses. Evidence suggests that Pegasus has been used in targeted attacks against human rights activists and journalists in various countries, used for state espionage against Pakistan, and most of all, perhaps Saudi Arabia. Spying on the communications of the murdered dissident Jamal Khashoggi.

In a somewhat comical turn, at the same time that Emmanuel Macron’s iPhone was on a leaked list of potential NSO spyware targets, it turns out that French government officials were in the final stages of contract negotiations to buy Pegasus! Needless to say, this was denied by the French, which supports the old foreign correspondent’s adage that “you can never believe anything until the Elysee has denied it three times.”

Until very recently, the NSO was ahead. All of that began to change at the beginning of this month when the Biden administration added NSO group to its Entity List“to act “contrary to the national security interests or foreign policy of the United States” and effectively prohibited the sale of hardware and software to the company. And last week Apple filed a lawsuit against NSO to hold it accountable for monitoring and targeting Apple users. The company is also seeking a permanent injunction to ban NSO from using any Apple software, services, or hardware. Needless to say, the Israeli government is angry about this, most likely because of the revelation The phones of Palestinian human rights defenders are “pegasused”.

What is often missing from covering these developments is that none of this would have happened without the skill, dedication, and perseverance of an exceptional group of academic researchers at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy. The school Citizen Lab In 2001 before Ronald Diebert, a political scientist who realized that the world would need a way to dig beneath the surface of our global communications networks to unravel the ways in which power is secretly exercised in its subterranean depths.

Over the past twenty years, Deibert has built a phenomenal team that, in a way, acts as a kind of The National Security Agency for civil society. For years, it was the only place one could get an informed picture of what NSO was doing and without lab work – and the personal courage of some of its researchers – I doubted the US would have moved against the company. But even if NSO now slips into bankruptcy, Pegasus won’t go away, because there are plenty of undemocratic clients for its capabilities. What Citizen Lab has shown is that the price of freedom is technological vigilance.

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