Posts Tagged ‘cyber security’

NSO versus Whatsapp continues in court

May 5, 2020

WhatsApp logo is seen displayed on a smart phone screen on 11 December 2019 [Ali Balıkçı/Anadolu Agency]

WhatsApp logo is seen displayed on a smart phone screen on 11 December 2019 [Ali Balıkçı/Anadolu Agency]

The NSO Group has always maintained its innocence insisting that its spyware is purchased by government clients for the purpose of tracking terrorists and criminals and that it had no independent knowledge of how those clients use its spyware. This claim is contradicted by court documents in WhatsApp’s lawsuit filed last year against the Israeli firm. While bringing the lawsuit, WhatsApp said in a statement that 100 civil society members had been targeted and called it “an unmistakable pattern of abuse”. New documents seen last week indicate that servers controlled by NSO Group and not its government clients, as alleged by the Israeli firm, were an integral part of how the hacks were executed. “NSO used a network of computers to monitor and update Pegasus after it was implanted on users’ devices,” said WhatsApp, “these NSO-controlled computers served as the nerve centre through which NSO controlled its customers’ operation and use of Pegasus [software used to hack computers and phones].”NSO Group is also accused by WhatsApp of gaining “unauthorised access” to its servers by evading the company’s security features.

n the ongoing legal battle between Facebook and software surveillance company NSO Group, the social media giant is trying to get NSO Group’s legal counsel dismissed because of an alleged conflict of interest. In a court filing made public this week, Facebook asked a federal judge to disqualify law firm King & Spalding from representing NSO Group because the firm previously represented Facebook-owned WhatsApp in a different, sealed case that is “substantially related” to the NSO Group one. King & Spalding, an Atlanta-based firm with a range of big corporate clients, has denied there is a conflict of interest, according to the filing.“Any attorney defending this suit would love to have insight into how WhatsApp’s platform and systems work,” the court filing states. “And King & Spalding has that insight—because it was once WhatsApp’s counsel.”The dispute with Facebook is one of multiple legal battles currently facing NSO Group. Amnesty International is trying to get an Israeli court to revoke NSO Group’s export license in Israel, citing Pegasus’s alleged role in humans rights abuses. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/17/has-nso-really-changed-its-attitude-with-regard-to-spyware/]

https://www.cyberscoop.com/nso-group-lawsuit-whatsapp-conflict-of-interest-king-spalding/

Israel’s NSO Group accused of ‘unmistakable pattern of abuse’ in hacking case

Amnesty accuses Facebook of complicity in Vietnamese censorship

April 22, 2020

On 21 April, Reuters reported that Facebook has begun to significantly step up its censorship of “anti-state” posts in the country. This follows pressure from the authorities, including what the company suspects were deliberate restrictions placed on its local servers by state-owned telecommunications companies that caused Facebook to become unusable for periods of time. The next day Amnesty International demanded that Facebook reverses immediately its decision.  “The revelation that Facebook is caving to Viet Nam’s far-reaching demands for censorship is a devastating turning point for freedom of expression in Viet Nam and beyond,” said William Nee, Business and Human Rights Advisor at Amnesty International. “The Vietnamese authorities’ ruthless suppression of freedom of expression is nothing new, but Facebook’s shift in policy makes them complicit.

Facebook must base its content regulation on international human rights standards for freedom of expression, not on the arbitrary whims of a rights-abusing government. Facebook has a responsibility to respect freedom of expression by refusing to cooperate with these indefensible takedown requests.” The Vietnamese authorities have a long track record of characterizing legitimate criticism as “anti-state” and prosecuting human rights defenders for “conducting propaganda against the state.” The authorities have been actively suppressing online speech amid the COVID-19 pandemic and escalating repressive tactics in recent weeks.  “It is shocking that the Vietnamese authorities are further restricting its peoples’ access to information in the midst of a pandemic. The Vietnamese authorities are notorious for harassing peaceful critics and whistleblowers. This move will keep the world even more in the dark about what is really happening in Viet Nam,” said William Nee.

Facebook’s decision follows years of efforts by Vietnamese authorities to profoundly undermine freedom of expression online, during which they prosecuted an increasing number of peaceful government critics for their online activity and introduced a repressive cybersecurity law that requires technology companies to hand over potentially vast amounts of data, including personal information, and to censor users’ posts. “Facebook’s compliance with these demands sets a dangerous precedent. Governments around the world will see this as an open invitation to enlist Facebook in the service of state censorship. It does all tech firms a terrible disservice by making them vulnerable to the same type of pressure and harassment from repressive governments,” said William Nee…

In a report published last year, Amnesty International found that around 10% of Viet Nam’s prisoners of conscience – individuals jailed solely for peacefully exercising their human rights – were jailed in relation to their Facebook activity. In January 2020, the Vietnamese authorities launched an unprecedented crackdown on social media, including Facebook and YouTube, in an attempt to silence public discussion of a high-profile land dispute in the village of Dong Tam, which has attracted persistent allegations of corruption and led to deadly clashes between security forces and villagers.  The crackdown has only intensified since the onset of COVID-19. Between January and mid-March, a total of 654 people were summoned to police stations across Viet Nam to attend “working sessions” with police related to their Facebook posts connected to the virus, among whom 146 were subjected to financial fines and the rest were forced to delete their posts. On 15 April, authorities introduced a sweeping new decree, 15/2020, which imposes new penalties on alleged social media content which falls foul of vague and arbitrary restrictions. The decree further empowers the government to force tech companies to comply with arbitrary censorship and surveillance measures.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/02/10/28-ngos-ask-eu-parliament-to-reject-cooperation-deal-with-vietnam-on-11-february/

Re Facebook and content moderation see also the Economist piece of 1 February 2020: https://www.economist.com/business/2020/01/30/facebook-unveils-details-of-its-content-oversight-board

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/04/viet-nam-facebook-cease-complicity-government-censorship/

Targeting of Digital Rights Defenders in Ecuador, Argentina, and Beyond

December 25, 2019

Danny O’Brien wrote in Electronic Frontier Foundation of 19 December 2019 that “More Than Thirty Human Rights Groups Protest the Targeting of Digital Rights Defenders”.

…And some human rights defenders are technologists: building tools to defend or enhance the practice of human rights, and calling out the errors or lies of those who might misuse technology against its users. At this year’s Internet Governance Forum in Berlin, civil society groups mourned a growing trend around the world: the targeted harassment and detention of digital rights defenders by the powerful. Digital rights defenders includes technologists who work to create or investigate digital tools, and who work to improve the security and privacy of vital infrastructure like the Internet, and e-voting devices. As the declaration, signed by a coalition NGOs notes:

The work digital rights defenders do in defense of privacy is fundamental for the protection of human rights. When they raise awareness about the existence of vulnerabilities in systems, they allow the public and private sector to find solutions that improve infrastructure and software security for the benefit of the public. Furthermore, their work as security advisers for journalists and human rights activists is of vital importance for the safety of journalists, activists and other human rights defenders.

The problem is not confined to, but is particular pressing in Latin America. As 2019 draws to a close, Swedish security researcher Ola Bini remains in a state of legal limbo in Ecuador after a politically-led prosecution sought to connect his work building secure communication tools to a vague and unsubstantiated conspiracy of Wikileaks-related hacking. Meanwhile in Argentina, e-voting activist Javier Smaldone remains the target of a tenuous hacking investigation.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/08/bloggers-and-technologists-who-were-forced-offline-in-2018/

https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2019/12/over-thirty-human-rights-groups-protest-targeting-digital-rights-defenders-ecuador

Has NSO really changed its attitude with regard to spyware?

September 17, 2019

Cyber-intelligence firm NSO Group has introduced a new Human Rights Policy and a supporting governance framework in an apparent attempt to boost its reputation and comply with the United Nations’ Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights. This follows recent criticism that its technology was being used to violate the rights of journalist and human rights defenders. A recent investigation found the company’s Pegasus spyware was used against a member of non-profit Amnesty International. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/02/19/novalpina-urged-to-come-clean-about-targeting-human-rights-defenders/]

The NSO’s new human rights policy aims to identify, prevent and mitigate the risks of adverse human rights impact. It also includes a thorough evaluation of the company’s sales process for the potential of adverse human rights impacts coming from the misuse of NSO products. As well as this, it introduces contractual agreements for NSO customers that will require them to limit the use of the company’s products to the prevention and investigation of serious crimes. There will be specific attention to protect individuals or groups that could be at risk of arbitrary digital surveillance and communication interceptions due to race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinions, national or social origin, property, birth or other status, or their exercise or defence of human rights. Rules have been set out to protect whistle-blowers who wish to report concerns about misuse of NSO technology.

Amnesty International is supporting current legal actions being taken against the Israeli Ministry of Defence, demanding that it revoke NSO Group’s export licence. In January 2020 an Israeli court ordered a  closed door hearing.

Danna Ingleton, Deputy Program Director for Amnesty Tech, said: “While on the surface it appears a step forward, NSO has a track record of refusing to take responsibility. The firm has sold invasive digital surveillance to governments who have used these products to track, intimidate and silence activists, journalists and critics.”

CEO and co-founder Shalev Hulio, counters: “NSO has always taken governance and its ethical responsibilities seriously as demonstrated by our existing best-in-class customer vetting and business decision process. With this new Human Rights Policy and governance framework, we are proud to further enhance our compliance system to such a degree that we will become the first company in the cyber industry to be aligned with the Guiding Principles.

https://www.verdict.co.uk/nso-group-new-human-rights-policy/

https://www.ynetnews.com/article/HJSNKJAeU

Controversial spyware company promises to respect human rights…in the future

June 19, 2019

This photo from August 25, 2016, shows the logo of the Israeli NSO Group company on a building in Herzliya, Israel. (AP Photo/Daniella Cheslow)

This photo from August 25, 2016, shows the logo of the Israeli NSO Group company on a building in Herzliya, Israel. (AP Photo/Daniella Cheslow)

Newspapers report that controversial Israeli spyware developer NSO Group will in the coming months move towards greater transparency and align itself fully with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the company’s owners said over the weekend. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/02/19/novalpina-urged-to-come-clean-about-targeting-human-rights-defenders/]

Private equity firm Novalpina, which acquired a majority stake in NSO Group in February, said that within 90 days it would “establish at NSO a new benchmark for transparency and respect for human rights.” It said it sought “a significant enhancement of respect for human rights to be built into NSO’s governance policies and operating procedures and into the products sold under licence to intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

The company has always stated that it provides its software to governments for the sole purpose of fighting terrorism and crime, but human rights defenders and NGOs have claimed the company’s technology has been used by repressive governments to spy on them. Most notably, the spyware was allegedly used in connection with the gruesome killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was dismembered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last year and whose body has never been found.

Last month London-based Amnesty International, together with other human rights activists, filed a petition to the District Court in Tel Aviv to compel Israel’s Defense Ministry to revoke the export license it granted to the company that Amnesty said has been used “in chilling attacks on human rights defenders around the world.”

On Friday the Guardian reported that Yana Peel, a well-known campaigner for human rights and a prominent figure in London’s art scene, is a co-owner of NSO, as she has a stake in Novalpina, co-founded by her husband Stephen Peel. Peel told the Guardian she has no involvement in the operations or decisions of Novalpina, which is managed by my husband, Stephen Peel, and his partners and added that the Guardian’s view of NSO was “quite misinformed.”

And Citizen Lab is far from re-assured:  https://citizenlab.ca/2019/06/letter-to-novalpina-regarding-statement-on-un-guiding-principles/…

https://www.timesofisrael.com/controversial-nso-group-to-adopt-policy-of-closer-respect-for-human-rights/

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jun/18/whatsapp-spyware-israel-cyber-weapons-company-novalpina-capital-statement

Possibility to apply for the African School on Internet Governance scholarships

May 21, 2019

Objectives of AfriSIG. AfriSIG’s primary goal is to give Africans from multiple sectors and stakeholder groups the opportunity to gain knowledge that will enable them to participate confidently and effectively in national, regional and global internet governance processes and debates. AfriSIG seeks also to give fellows the opportunity to participate actively at the AfIGF as speakers, moderators, and rapporteurs. The dates and location of this year’s AfIGF are still to be confirmed.

Curriculum

The School will run throughout six days, and will be structured to include intensive learning and knowledge sharing that covers: An overview of internet governance concepts, issues and institutions; Internet architecture, infrastructure, standards and protocols and management of internet names and numbers; Internet governance and social issues: gender, human rights and development; Cybersecurity, multistakeholder approaches and emerging issues in internet governance such as algorithms and the “internet of things”; The highlight of the school is a practicum in which participants have to tackle an actual internet-related policy challenge and come up with an agreed solution or statement.

Eligibility

The School will accept applications from a wide range of professionals including human rights defenders and NGO leaders.

Costs and Scholarships

Applicants can apply for a scholarship to attend the school. However, given the limited number of scholarships, self-funded and sponsored applicants are encouraged to apply. The full course fee, which covers accommodation, meals, course material, and tuition, is USD 2,000. This excludes travel. Scholarships will cover air travel, shared accommodation and meal costs for the duration of the School. Successful applicants have the option of staying in a single room, but they would need to cover the additional cost themselves. The deadline for applications is Saturday, 1 June 2019.

For more information, visit the AfriSIG website

To apply please complete the form here

Apply for the African School on Internet Governance scholarships

NGOs urge Putin not to sign Russia’s “Sovereign Internet Bill”

April 28, 2019

Participants in an opposition rally in central Moscow protest against tightening state control over the internet in Russia, 10 March 2019
Participants in an opposition rally in central Moscow protest against tightening state control over the internet in Russia, 10 March 2019  Igor Russak/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

On 24 April 2019 nine major human rights, media and Internet freedom NGOs, called on Russian President Vladmir Putin, not to sign the so-called “Sovereign Internet Bill” as it will lead to further limitations of already restricted Internet and media freedoms in the country.

The bill (No. 608767-7) amends the laws “On Communications” and “On Information, Information Technologies and Information Protection” and states its aim as enabling the Russian Internet to operate independently from the World Wide Web in the event of an emergency or foreign threat. On 16 April 2019, the Russian State Duma approved the bill in the third reading amid widespread domestic criticism, protests and online campaigning around the country, and on 22 April, the Federation Council, the upper house of the Russian parliament, approved it. If signed by President Vladimir Putin, the bill would enter into force on 1 November 2019.

The bill creates a system that gives the authorities the capacity to block access to parts of the Internet in Russia, potentially ranging from cutting access to particular Internet Service Providers (ISPs) through to cutting all access to the Internet throughout Russia.

The bill gives control over Internet network routing to the state regulator for Telecommunications, Information Technologies and Mass Communications, Roskomnadzor. It provides that the ISPs should connect with other ISPs, or “peer,” at Internet exchange points (IXes) approved by the authorities, and that these IXes should not allow unapproved ISPs to peer. The bill would also create a centralised system of devices capable of blocking Internet traffic. The bill requires ISPs to install the devices, which the government would provide free of charge, in their networks.

Under this system, Roskomnadzor would monitor threats to Russia’s Internet access and transmit instructions to ISPs through the special devices about countering these threats. Cross-border Internet traffic would be kept under close state control. The draft does not specify what the range of instructions would be, but they could potentially include partially or fully blocking traffic both between Russia and the rest of the World Wide Web, and within Russia. Nor does the draft explain how the new equipment will work, or what specifically it will do. It is clear, however, that blocking would result from direct interaction between the government and the ISP and that it will be extrajudicial and nontransparent. The public would not know what has been blocked and why.

The bill states that the new measures will be activated in the event of a ‘security threat’. The draft does not define security threats, and instead gives the government full discretion to decide what would constitute a security threat and what range of measures would be activated using the new system to address a threat.

The bill also states that Russian ISPs remain obligated to filter and block content in accordance with existing Russian law.

Further, the bill creates a national domain name system (DNS) – a system that acts as the address-book for the Internet by allowing anyone to look up the address of the server(s) hosting the URL of a website they are looking for. The bill would require Internet providers to start using the national DNS from 1 January 2021. Forcing ISPs to use the national system will give Russian authorities the ability to manipulate the results provided to the ISP outside the ISP’s knowledge and control. Authorities will be able to answer any user’s request for a website address with either a fake address or no address at all. This not only allows them to conduct fine-grained censorship but will also let the national DNS to redirect users to government-controlled servers in response to any DNS requests instead of to a website’s authentic servers.

These proposals are very broad, overly vague, and vest in the government unlimited and opaque discretion to define threats. They carry serious risks to the security and safety of commercial and private users and undermine the rights to freedom of expression, access to information and media freedom.

The bill contravenes standards on freedom of expression and privacy protected by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), to which Russia is a party. Both treaties allow states to limit freedoms to protect national security but impose clear criteria for such limitations to be valid. The UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, commenting on the ICCPR, has reiterated that these limits should be “provided by law, which is clear and accessible to everyone,” and be predictable and transparent.

Human Rights Watch, ARTICLE 19 and other undersigned organisations are extremely concerned that the changes introduced in the bill threaten human rights and freedoms in Russia. Open, secure and reliable connectivity is essential for human rights online, including the rights to freedom of expression, information, assembly, privacy and media freedom. The bill could pose a threat to the Internet’s rights-enabling features if access to the World Wide Web is wholly or partially cut off, or if arbitrary blocking and filtering of content is carried out. It would facilitate state surveillance and curb anonymity online. It also risks severely isolating people in Russia from the rest of the world, limiting access to information and constraining attempts at collective action and public protest. The Bill’s negative impact on the freedom of expression will also affect the rights of journalists and media to work freely.

The adoption of the bill should be seen in the context of other Russian legislation that severely undermines protection of freedom of expression and privacy online and fails to meet international human rights standards. These include:

. The 2016 ‘Yarovaya Law,’ which requires all communications providers and Internet operators to store metadata about their users’ communications activities, to disclose decryption keys at the security services’ request, and to use only encryption methods approved by the Russian government. It was adopted to allegedly counter ‘extremism’ but in practice, it creates a backdoor for Russia’s security agents to access Internet users’ data, traffic, and communications.

. In 2017, Federal Law 327-FZ made amendments to the ‘Lugovoi Law’ (Federal Law FZ-398, 2013) that gave the General Prosecutor or his/her deputies a right to block access to any online resource of a foreign or international NGOs designated ‘undesirable’; and, to ‘information providing methods to access’ the resources enumerated in the ‘Lugovoi Law’, i.e. including hyper-links to old announcements on public rallies not approved by local authorities.

. The recent March 2019 bills mandate blocking and penalizing websites that publish what authorities deem to be “fake news” and “insult” to authorities, state symbols, and what the legislation vaguely describes as Russian “society.”

The President of the Russian Federation should reject the bill. The Russian Government should also review other Internet related legislation, abolish the above listed laws and bring its legal framework to full compliance with international freedom of expression standards.

ARTICLE 19

Civil Rights Defenders

Committee to Protect Journalists

Human Rights Watch

International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)

International Media Support

International Partnership for Human Rights

Norwegian Helsinki Committee

PEN International

Reporters without Borders

https://www.ifex.org/russia/2019/04/24/sovereign-internet-bill/

https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/04/24/joint-statement-russias-sovereign-internet-bill

Big Brother Awards try to identify risks for human rights defenders

February 24, 2019

Novalpina urged to come clean about targeting human rights defenders

February 19, 2019

In an open letter released today, 18 February 2019, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and five other NGOs urged Novalpina to publicly commit to accountability for NSO Group’s past spyware abuses, including the targeting of an Amnesty International employee and the alleged targeting of Jamal Khashoggi. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/08/29/apple-tackles-iphone-one-tap-spyware-flaws-after-mea-laureate-discovers-hacking-attempt/]

Danna Ingleton, Deputy Director of Amnesty Tech, said: “Novalpina’s executives have serious questions to answer about their involvement with a company which has become the go-to surveillance tool for abusive governments. This sale comes in the wake of reports that NSO paid private operatives to physically intimidate individuals trying to investigate its role in attacks on human rights defenders – further proof that NSO is an extremely dangerous entity.

We are calling on Novalpina to confirm an immediate end to the sale or further maintenance of NSO products to governments which have been accused of using surveillance to violate human rights. It must also be completely transparent about its plans to prevent further abuses.

This could be an opportunity to finally hold NSO Group to account. Novalpina must commit to fully engaging with investigations into past abuses of NSO’s spyware, and ensure that neither NSO Group nor its previous owners, Francisco Partners, are let off the hook.”

The signatories to the letter are:

  • Amnesty International
  • R3D: Red en Defensa de los Derechos Digitales
  • Privacy International
  • Access Now
  • Human Rights Watch
  • Reporters Without Borders
  • Robert L. Bernstein Institute for Human Rights, NYU School of Law and Global Justice Clinic, NYU School of Law

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/02/spyware-firm-buyout-reaffirms-urgent-need-for-justice-for-targeted-activists/

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/research/2019/02/open-letter-to-novalpina-capital-nso-group-and-francisco-partners/

Jigsaw designed software (“Outline”) for self-controlled VPNs

March 21, 2018

HOTLITTLEPOTATO

A VIRTUAL PRIVATE NETWORK (VPN), that core privacy tool that encrypts your internet traffic and bounces it through a faraway server, has always presented a paradox: Sure, it helps you hide from some forms of surveillance, like your internet service provider’s snooping and eavesdroppers on your local network. But it leaves you vulnerable to a different, equally powerful spy: Whoever controls the VPN server you’re routing all your traffic through.

To help solve that quagmire, Jigsaw, the Alphabet-owned Google sibling that serves as a human rights-focused tech incubator, will now offer VPN software that you can easily set up on your own server—or at least, one you set up yourself, and control in the cloud. And unlike older homebrew VPN code, Jigsaw says it’s focused on making the setup and hosting of that server simple enough that even small, less savvy organizations or even individual users can do it in minutes.

Jigsaw says that the free DIY proxy software, called Outline, aims to provide an alternative to, on the one hand, stronger anonymity tools like Tor that slow down web browsing by bouncing connections through multiple encrypted hops around the world and, on the other hand, commercial VPNs that can be expensive, and also put users’ private information and internet history at risk.

The core of the product is that people can run their own VPN,” says Santiago Andrigo, the Jigsaw product manager who led Outline’s development. “You get the reassurance that no one else has your data, and you can rest easier in that knowledge.”

..A Swedish NGO, Civil Rights Defenders, has been testing Outline since last fall with the group of sensitive internet users it works to protect, who include journalists, lawyers, human rights defenders and LGBT communities in 18 repressive regimes around the world. ..

https://www.wired.com/story/alphabet-outline-vpn-software/

https://www.androidauthority.com/outline-censorship-vpn-847999/

see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/01/10/security-without-borders-offers-free-security-help-to-human-rights-defenders/