Posts Tagged ‘hacking’

The Ups and downs in sueing the NSO Group

July 20, 2020

Written By Shubham Bose

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While AI stranded in its effort in Israel [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/15/amnesty-internationals-bid-to-block-spyware-company-nso-fails-in-israeli-court/ ] a federal US court has passed an order allowing WhatsApp to move forward with its case against the Israeli company for allegedly targeting 1,400 users with malware in 2019. According to reports, it is believed that spyware produced by the Israeli firm NSO Group was used to target various groups of people around the world, such as journalists, human rights defenders, and even politicians. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/10/30/nso-accused-of-largest-attack-on-civil-society-through-its-spyware/

Judge Phyllis Hamilton, in her ruling on the cases, stated that she was not convinced by NSO Group’s claims and arguments that it had no hand in targeting WhatsApp users. Moving forward in the trial, the NSO Group might be forced to reveal its clients and make the list public.

The judge also added that even if NSO was operating at the direction of its customer, it still appeared to have a hand in targeting WhatsApp users. As per reports, a WhatsApp spokesperson said the Facebook-owned venture was pleasd with the court’s decision and will now be able to uncover the practices of NSO Group.

Even in the face of criticism from privacy advocates, the company has claimed that law enforcement agencies are facing difficulties due to the proliferation of encrypted messaging apps like WhatsApp.

The law firm King & Spalding has reportedly been hired by the NSO group to represent them. Among the company’s legal team is Rod Rosenstein, Trump administration’s former attorney general. The NSO Group has reportedly had multiple government clients like Saudi Arabia, Mexico, and the United Arab Emirates who have used spyware to target political opponents and human rights, campaigners.

https://www.republicworld.com/world-news/us-news/whatsapp-lawsuit-against-israeli-firm-nso-group-given-green-light-by-u.html

Amnesty International’s bid to block spyware company NSO fails in Israeli court

July 15, 2020

Amnesty International’s bid to block spyware company NSO Group’s international export licence has been shut down in a Tel Aviv court, apparently due to a lack of evidence, reported several media, here in the New Statesman of 14 July 2020. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/17/has-nso-really-changed-its-attitude-with-regard-to-spyware/ ]

The case argued that the Israeli defence ministry should revoke the group’s export licence in light of numerous allegations that its phone-hacking Pegasus spyware has been used by governments (including Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and the UAE) to spy on civilians including an Amnesty International employee, human rights activists, lawyers and journalists..

The district court judge Rachel Barkai wrote in a statement that there was not enough evidence to “substantiate the claim that an attempt was made to monitor a human rights activist”. She wrote that in reviewing materials provided by the Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, she was persuaded that export licences were granted as part of a “sensitive and rigorous process”, and closely monitored and revoked if conditions were violated, “in particular in cases of human rights violations.”

Amnesty International decried the court’s decision. Danna Ingleton, acting co-director of Amnesty Tech, said in a statement: “Today’s disgraceful ruling is a cruel blow to people put at risk around the world by NSO Group selling its products to notorious human rights abusers. […] The ruling of the court flies in the face of the mountains of evidence of NSO Group’s spyware being used to target human rights defenders from Saudi Arabia to Mexico, including the basis of this case – the targeting of one of our own Amnesty employees.

NSO said: “Our detractors, who have made baseless accusations to fit their own agendas, have no answer to the security challenges of the 21st century. Now that the court’s decision has shown that our industry is sufficiently regulated, the focus should turn to what answer those who seek to criticise NSO have to the abuse of encryption by nefarious groups.”

The NSO Group is currently embroiled in another lawsuit brought by WhatsApp, which alleges that Pegasus spyware was used to hack more than a thousand of the messaging platform’s users. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/10/30/nso-accused-of-largest-attack-on-civil-society-through-its-spyware/]

https://tech.newstatesman.com/security/amnesty-international-nso-group-export-licence

After NSO, now Indian based hacking group targets NGOs

June 10, 2020

A multi-year investigation by Citizen Lab has unearthed a hack-for-hire group from India that targeted journalists, advocacy groups, government officials, hedge funds, and human rights defenders.

A lot has been written about the NSO group and human rights defenders [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/nso-group/], now another case of cyber insecurity has come up:

Jay Jay – a freelance technology writer – posted an article in Teiss on 9 June 2020 stating that Citizen Lab revealed in a blog post published Tuesday that the hack-for-hire group’s identity was established after the security firm investigated a custom URL shortener that the group used to shorten the URLs of phishing websites prior to targeting specific individuals and organisations. Citizen Lab has named the group as “Dark Basin“.

“Over the course of our multi-year investigation, we found that Dark Basin likely conducted commercial espionage on behalf of their clients against opponents involved in high profile public events, criminal cases, financial transactions, news stories, and advocacy,” the firm said.

It added that the hack-for-hire group targeted thousands of individuals and organisations in six continents, including senior politicians, government prosecutors, CEOs, journalists, and human rights defenders, and is linked to BellTroX InfoTech Services, an India-based technology company.

….The range of targets, that included two clusters of advocacy organisations in the United States working on climate change and net neutrality, made it clear to Citizen Lab that Dark Basin was not state-sponsored but was a hack-for-hire operation.

…As further proof of Dark Basin’s links with BellTroX, researchers found that several BellTroX employees boasted capabilities like email penetration, exploitation, conducting cyber intelligence operations, pinging phones, and corporate espionage on LinkedIn. BellTroX’s LinkedIn pages also received endorsements from individuals working in various fields of corporate intelligence and private investigation, including private investigators with prior roles in the FBI, police, military, and other branches of government.

The list of organisations targeted by Dark Basin over the past few years includes Rockefeller Family Fund, Greenpeace, Conservation Law Foundation, Union of Concerned Scientists, Oil Change International, Center for International Environmental Law, Climate Investigations Center, Public Citizen, and 350.org. The hack-for-hire group also targeted several environmentalists and individuals involved in the #ExxonKnew campaign that wanted Exxon to face trial for hiding facts about climate change for decades.

A separate investigation into Dark Basin by NortonLifeLock Labs, which they named “Mercenary.Amanda”, revealed that the hack-for-hire group executed persistent credential spearphishing against a variety of targets in several industries around the globe going back to at least 2013…

https://www.teiss.co.uk/indian-hack-for-hire-group-phishing/

https://thewire.in/tech/spyware-rights-activists-lawyers-citizen-lab

https://scroll.in/latest/964803/nine-activists-most-of-them-working-to-release-bhima-koregaon-accused-targets-of-spyware-amnesty

Also: Hack-for-hire firms spoofing WHO accounts to target organisations worldwide

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.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/06/nso-spyware-used-against-moroccan-journalist/

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

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/

European Parliament votes to restrict exports of surveillance equipment

January 22, 2018

Members of the European Parliament have voted to curb export of surveillance equipment to states with poor human rights records, following mounting evidence that equipment supplied by companies in Europe has been used by oppressive regimes to suppress political opponents, journalists and campaigners. MEPs in Strasbourg agreed on 17 January to extend EU export controls to include new restrictions on the export of surveillance equipment, including devices for intercepting mobile phones, hacking computers, circumventing passwords and identifying internet users. The proposals also seek to remove encryption technologies from the list of technologies covered by EU export controls, in a move which aims to make it easier for people living in oppressive regimes to gain access to secure communications which can circumvent state surveillance.

Dictators spy on their citizens using EU cyber-surveillance. This must stop. The EU cannot contribute to the suffering of courageous activists, who often risk their lives for freedom and democracy,” said MEP Klaus Buchner, European Parliament rapporteur. “We are determined to close dangerous gaps in the export of dual-use goods and call on member states to follow suit.”

The proposed changes to the EU dual use export control regime are likely to face opposition from the defence industry and governments, as the European Parliament, and the European Commission prepare to negotiate their implantation with Europe’s 28 member states.

European technology companies, including UK firms, have supplied equipment that  has been used for arresting, torturing, and killing people in Iran, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Morocco, according to the European Parliament. An investigation by Computer Weekly revealed that the UK government had approved export licences to Gamma International (UK) to supply mobile phone interception equipment, known as IMSI catchers, to Macedonia, when the regime was engaged in a massive illegal surveillance operation against the public and political opponents.

And the UK’s largest arms manufacturer, BAE Systems, has exported equipment capable of mass internet surveillance to countries that campaigners say regularly commit human rights abuses, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Morocco and Algeria. An overwhelming majority of MEPs supported reforms to the EU’s export control regime, which will require member states to deny export licences if the export of surveillance technology is likely to lead to a serious impact on human rights in the destination country. The proposed changes, backed by 571 votes to 29 against, with 29 abstentions, will impose tough requirements for EU governments.

Member states will be required to assess the likely impact of surveillance technology on citizens’ right to privacy, freedom of speech, and freedom of association, in the destination country before they grant  export licences – a significant step up from current levels of scrutiny.

The proposed rules contain safeguards, however, that will allow legitimate cyber-security research to continue. Companies exporting products that are not specifically listed will be expected to follow the OECD’s “due diligence” guidelines, if there is a risk they could support human-rights violations.

Improved transparency measures will require member states to record and make data on approved and declined export licences publicly available, opening up the secretive global trade in surveillance technologies to greater public scrutiny.

http://www.computerweekly.com/news/252433519/European-Parliament-votes-to-restrict-exports-of-surveillance-equipment

Snowden claims his Haven is safe

December 28, 2017

US whistle-blower Edward Snowden has helped create an Android app designed to protect the possessions of journalists and human rights defenders. The software uses sensors – including a phone’s camera, microphone, gyroscope and accelerometer – to detect intruders tampering with someone’s possessions. It is open source, meaning its code can be inspected. It is designed to be used on a “second” smartphone that can be left with the possessions a user wishes to monitor. The app was created as a joint venture between The Guardian Project and Freedom of the Press Foundation, of which Edward Snowden is board president.

Haven turns any spare android phone into a safe room that fits in your pocket,” claims Edward Snowden. In an age where our digital security is at more risk than our physical security, Snowden claims that Haven will change the game of cyber surveillance.

Here’s how it works: once you install the app, it uses the smartphone’s in-built equipment, like cameras, light sensor and microphones, to monitor for any motion, sound or disturbance of the phone. As explained by WIRED: “Leave the app running in your hotel room, for instance, and it can capture photos and audio of anyone entering the room while you’re out, whether an innocent housekeeper or an intelligence agent trying to use his alone time with your laptop to install spyware on it.” Alerts can be sent to your phone, via SMS, Signal or to a Tor-based website.

You shouldn’t have to be saving the world to benefit from Haven,said Snowden, though the app’s primary users are meant to be investigative journalists, human rights defenders, and other people at risk of forced disappearance.

see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/09/29/edward-snowden-can-still-not-collect-his-awards/

——-

https://video.scroll.in/862821/watch-nsa-whistleblower-edward-snowdens-app-turns-your-phone-into-a-physical-security-system

https://www.thequint.com/tech-and-auto/tech-news/edward-snowden-data-privacy-haven-app-android-released

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-42493028

Ahmed Mansoor, MEA Laureate 2015, arrested in middle-of-the-night raid in Emirates

March 21, 2017

Ahmed Mansoor’s whereabouts are unknown © Martin Ennals Foundation

On 20 March, 2017, around midnight, Mr. Ahmed Mansoor was arrested at his home in Ajman, UAE, by a large team of the Emirates’ security forces. The Government has finally confirmed that it is holding him, but until today we don’t know where. The reasons for his arrest remain unknown but might be linked to a series of tweets he posted on Twitter in recent days, calling for the release of UAE human rights defender Osama Al-Najjar or to a letter that he signed, along with other activists in the region, calling for the release of all prisoners of conscience in the Middle East ahead of an Arab League Summit scheduled to be held in Jordan on 29 March 2017.

Following a massive crackdown on human rights defenders in the UAE in recent years, Ahmed Mansoor is today widely respected as the only independent voice still speaking out through his blog and Twitter account against human rights violations from inside the country. He was the Laureate of the Martin Ennals Award 2015. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/10/07/the-link-to-the-full-mea-2015-ceremony-of-6-october/]. Mr. Mansoor has faced repeated intimidation, harassment, and death threats from the UAE authorities or their supporters, including arrest and imprisonment in 2011 following an unfair trial. Although pardoned and released later that year, the UAE authorities have arbitrarily imposed a travel ban on him. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/09/15/fly-emirates-if-the-emirs-let-you/]

In August 2016 Ahmed Mansoor was at the centre of a hacking scandal involving Apple’s iOS operating system [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/08/29/apple-tackles-iphone-one-tap-spyware-flaws-after-mea-laureate-discovers-hacking-attempt/]

Sources:

UAE: alarm at middle-of-the-night arrest of leading human rights activist | Amnesty International UK

http://www.omct.org/human-rights-defenders/urgent-interventions/united-arab-emirates/2017/03/d24255/

Security Without Borders offers free security help to human rights defenders

January 10, 2017

Network World of 3 January 2017 carried an interesting piece on Claudio Guarnieri who launched Security Without Borders which offers free cybersecurity help to journalists, activists and human rights defenders.

For all the wonderful things that the internet has given us, the internet also has been turned into a tool for repression. Nation states have deep pockets and use the imbalance to their own advantage. Technology has been used “to curb dissent, to censor information, to identify and monitor people.” ..Billions of dollars have been poured into surveillance—both passive and active.”Sadly, electronic surveillance and censorship have become so commonplace that nowadays people can get arrested for a tweet. There are places were dissidents are hunted down, using crypto is illegal, where sites are blocked and even internet access can be cut off. “Those who face imprisonment and violence in the pursuit of justice and democracy cannot succeed if they don’t communicate securely as well as remain safe online.”

Security “is a precondition for privacy, which is the key enabler for freedom of expression.” He was not implying that the security should come from big firms, either, since big security businesses often need contracts with the government and are dependent on the national security sector. So, Guarnieri turned to the hacker community and launched Security Without Borders, which “is an open collective of hackers and cybersecurity professionals who volunteer with assisting journalists, human rights defenders, and non-profit organizations with cyber security issues.”

security without borders

The website Security Without Borders has a big red button labeled “Request Assistance.” Activists, journalists and human rights defenders are encouraged to reach out for help. The group of “penetration testers, malware analysts, developers, engineers, system administrators and hackers” from all walks of life offer cybersecurity help. We can assist with web security assessments, conduct breach investigations and analysis, and generally act as an advisor in questions pertaining to cybersecurity. As security services are often expensive to come by, SWB offers these services free to organizations and people fighting against human rights abuse, racism, and other injustices.

When requesting help, you are asked to give your name or organization’s name, an email address, a description of the work you do and what kind of help you need. Hackers and computer security geeks who support freedom of speech are also encouraged to reach out and volunteer their skills.

There is still on-going discussions on the mailing list on issues such as trust and where to draw the line for extending free help to specific groups. Security Without Borders is just getting off the ground, and will have to deal with some of the same problems that earlier efforts in this area face, see e.g:  https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/08/25/datnav-new-guide-to-navigate-and-integrate-digital-data-in-human-rights-research/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/10/31/protecting-human-rights-defenders-from-hackers-and-improving-digital-security/

Sources:

Security Without Borders: Free security help for dissidents | Network World

http://motherboard.vice.com/read/hacker-claudio-guarnieri-security-without-borders-political-dissidents

Protecting human rights defenders from hackers and improving digital security

October 31, 2016

Joshua Oliver on 14 October, 2016 interviewed for NY City Lens, Kim Burton of Access Now about the digital security dangers faced by human rights defenders. A recent example is what happened to Ahmed Mansoor [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2016/08/29/apple-tackles-iphone-one-tap-spyware-flaws-after-mea-laureate-discovers-hacking-attempt/] but there are many other cases. The staff of the Digital Security Helpline offers free, 24/7 technical support and advice on digital security to activists, journalists, and human rights defenders around the world. It is a project of Access Now, an NGO that promotes human rights online. The interview ends with 3 simple practical steps that any person can do to improve their security.

Kim Burton, security education coordinator at Access Now, works on the digital security helpline.

Kim Burton, security education coordinator at Access Now, works on the digital security helpline.

What makes the kind of targeted digital threat that a human rights defender or an activist might experience different from the threats that ordinary users might face?

The goal is different. When you’re targeting the average individual often these campaigns are really large. They’ll be interested in getting a lot of cash. When someone’s trying to compromise a human rights defender or activist or journalist, it’s usually because they want that person’s information. They want that person’s contacts. They want to be able to intimidate that person so they stop doing the work that they’re doing.

What type of things might prompt someone to contact the helpline?

They could receive an unfriendly email that scares them, and so they’ll bring that email to us. With journalists it’ll be more about protecting information that they’re trying to move out of the country, or it can just be protecting their publishing while they’re online. Often when we get contacted it’s for people who have had their accounts actually hacked. Where the account is posting information that the owner did not post, or it’s completely defaced.

Can you describe the difference between the support that’s typically available for someone in a corporate or government environment with a digital security problem as compared to someone in a non-governmental organization working on human rights or activism?

I think one of the major things is just having someone to call. In a corporate environment they have either an IT group or a person or systems administrator. So you already know who to call. In NGOs [non-governmental organizations], often times, there isn’t an IT person at all. There’s not a systems administrator. The tech support is not available. And part of that is funding. Corporate environments are able to spend a lot more money on salaries, so they’re able to pay the tech people a lot more than they would get in the NGO space.

What can be the direct consequences to the people who are targeted by this kind of threat? 

Unfortunately people can die. That’s one of the things that we have to be aware of every day on the helpline. People do get killed for the information that they have out there. The other consequences are: people’s lives can be ruined, people can be imprisoned, people can have to leave countries, their families can be hurt. The stakes are very high.

Can you define what phishing is?

It’s those emails that say something like “You’ve won a million dollars, click here to receive.” Or something that is a little bit more scary, like “This is your co-worker, I need the password to this account.” It can get more targeted. But everyone receives these — this isn’t unique to the people that we work with. It’s just that the people that we work with might have a higher chance of receiving a more targeted phishing campaign.

What are three easy things people can do to improve their own digital security? 

Number one, always install software updates. Updates are often released to address security vulnerabilities; updating is your first line of defense.

Two, use unique, long, and strong passwords. If your password is leaked in one place, and you have used the same password somewhere else, that other account can be compromised as well. Avoid remembering each of these unique passwords with a password manager, like KeePassX or LastPass. Password managers keep your credentials in an encrypted database and assist you in generating unpredictable strings to use as sturdy logins.

Three, use two-factor authentication when available. Instead of only using a password to protect your account, two-factor requires another “factor” to log in. Like a bank that needs your card and PIN to withdraw from an ATM, you’ll need your password and something else (like a SMS text, generated code, or fingerprint) to access your account. All of the major email providers provide multi-factor authentication, as do many other accounts, like Amazon, Twitter and Facebook; look for it in your security settings.

see also: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/digital-security/

Source: Protecting Activists from Hackers – NY City Lens