Is spyware for Android and iPhone linked to terrorist attacks and murders?

According to Amnesty International, the spy software of the Israeli company Nso is also involved in the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The IT firm denied the allegations and claimed to protect human rights

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It spyware Pegasus to control the activity of Android and iPhone, sold by the Israeli computer company Nso, would allow state terrorist attacks in multiple countries, according to a new database issued by Amnesty International and other organizations.

Nso develops spyware – software that collect information on a user’s online activity without their consent – for both iPhone and Android smartphones, allowing users to read text messages and emails, monitor contacts and calls, track locations, collect passwords, and even turn on the microphone smartphone to record meetings.

Nso exploits vulnerabilities zero-day, i.e. security bugs unknown even to the manufacturer of the hardware or software. Discovering these flaws can create malware, including spyware. Zero-days discovered in iOS can be worth huge sums of money on the black market. The Israel-based NSO group buys a lot of them for its spyware.

The company claims it only sells Pegasus to governments, but critics say these include countries with a history of human rights violations. As early as 2019, it was discovered that Pegasus could secretly collect all iCloud data from a target’s phone. Pegasus allegedly hacked iPhones belonging to some reporters from Al Jazeera. Last year Amnesty International attempted unsuccessfully to block spyware exports.

However, on Saturday the NGO, together with Citizen Lab and Forensic Architecture presented a new database which accuses the Israeli company of providing governments with technology that has been used to spy on dozens of journalists, activists and lawyers. The report claims that spyware is linked to violence such as break-ins, harassment, intimidation and murder in more than 60 cases where it has been used, to target dissidents and government critics. Among the states in question are Rwanda, Togo, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Morocco, India and Spain.

The research, called “Digital Violence: How the Nso Group Enables State Terror,” is based on analysis of legal files, interviews with alleged victims, export licenses, news and procurement records. In fact, Pegasus was also used in the case of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. His associates and friends were reportedly spied on in this by Saudi Arabia, prior to his assassination in October 2018. Nso denied that his technology was used to strike Khashoggi.

An Nso spokesperson said the company hasn’t looked into the database, but said it probably is “Full of inaccuracies and old and recycled claims”. Nso explained that it already refuses to sell its spyware in 55 countries and is investigating allegations of abuse. According to a company transparency report, the 15% of potential sales of Pegasus was rejected last year due to human rights concerns.

Categories:   Internet