Posts Tagged ‘NSO Group’

NGOs demand EU to impose sanctions on NSO Group

December 7, 2021

Dozens of rights groups are urging the European Union to impose sanctions on the Israeli NSO Group to ban the company’s Pegasus surveillance technology. The letter sent to the EU was signed by 86 rights groups and independent experts, including Reporters Without Borders, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Privacy International, among others. A consortium of media revealed that this powerful spyware was used extensively by several governments to spy on lawyers, journalists, political opponents and human rights activists.

Several victims of illegal surveillance have been identified in Hungary, where the government initially denied being a client of NSO Group, before admitting to having purchased the software. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/11/10/palestinian-ngos-dubbed-terrorist-were-hacked-with-pegasus-spyware/

A good resource is here: https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/MAGAZINE-nso-pegasus-spyware-file-complete-list-of-individuals-targeted-1.10549510

Several victims of illegal surveillance have been identified in Hungary, where the government initially denied being a client of NSO Group, before admitting to having purchased the software. See also:

There is overwhelming evidence that Pegasus spyware has been repeatedly used by abusive governments to clamp down on peaceful human rights defenders, activists and perceived critics,” Deborah Brown, senior digital rights researcher and advocate at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “The EU should immediately sanction NSO Group and ban any use of its technologies.”

The EU’s global human rights sanctions would allow the EU to adopt “ “targeted sanctions against entities deemed responsible for violations or abuses that are “of serious concern as regards the objectives of the common foreign and security policy”, including violations or abuses of freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, or of freedom of opinion and expression,” the letter read.

According to Human Rights Watch, these rights have been “repeatedly violated using NSO technology,” and, as highlighted by the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, “the use of spyware by abusive governments can also facilitate extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and killings, or enforced disappearance of persons.” See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/10/04/big-coalition-urges-un-to-denounce-abuses-facilitated-by-spyware-technologies/

NSO Group was blacklisted by the US State Department at the beginning of November, and slapped with a sanction that drastically limited the business relationships the US company had with US customers or suppliers, according to the French newspaper Le Monde. “The EU should unequivocally close its doors to business with NSO Group,” Brown said.

“Targeted sanctions are necessary to that end, and to add to growing international pressure against the company and the out-of-control spyware industry.”

In Europe, several investigations are ongoing, but no sanctions have been formally imposed on the company. In addition to Hungary, several other countries are, or have been, customers of NSO Group – although this does not mean that all these countries have made illegal use of Pegasus.

In addition to Germany, several EU countries have purchased access to the software, according to Le Monde.

See also: https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/tech-news/.premium.HIGHLIGHT.MAGAZINE-citizen-lab-vs-nso-the-institute-taking-down-israel-s-mercenary-spyware-firms-1.10536773

https://slate.com/technology/2021/12/apple-lawsuit-nso-group-q-cyber-pegasus.html

https://www.euronews.com/next/2021/12/03/pegasus-spyware-ngos-urge-the-eu-to-sanction-israeli-group-nso

And the latest: https://marketresearchtelecast.com/spyware-sale-at-nso-group-the-end-of-pegasus/226205/

as well as

https://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/concern-activist-s-phone-infected-with-spyware-during-dublin-conference-1.4778962

in 2022 the following items can be added:

https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/01/26/human-rights-watch-among-pegasus-spyware-targets

https://thewire.in/tech/nso-chairman-quits-says-departure-unrelated-to-recent-scandals

2021 Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Press Freedom Awards

November 21, 2021

On 20 November 2021 Pacific Media Watch reported that the 2021 Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Press Freedom Awards have been given to Chinese journalist Zhang Zhan in the courage category, Palestinian journalist Majdoleen Hassona in the independence category, and the Pegasus Project in the impact category.

RSF president Pierre Haski announces the 29th RSF Press Freedom Awards in Paris. Video: RSF

RSF’s press freedom prizes are awarded every year to journalists or media that have made a notable contribution to the defence or promotion of freedom of the press in the world. This is the 29th year they have been awarded. The 2021 awards have been given in three categories — journalistic courage, impact and independence.

Courage Prize
The 2021 Prize for Courage, which aims to support and salute journalists, media outlets or NGOs that have displayed courage in the practice, defence or promotion of journalism, has been awarded to Chinese journalist Zhang Zhan.

Zhang Zhan

Despite constant threats, this lawyer-turned-journalist covered the covid-19 outbreak in the city of Wuhan in February 2020, live-streaming video reports on social media that showed the city’s streets and hospitals, and the families of the sick. Her reporting from the heart of the pandemic’s initial epicentre was one of the main sources of independent information about the health situation in Wuhan at the time.

After being arrested in May 2020 and held incommunicado for several months without any official reason being provided, Zhang Zhan was sentenced on 28 December 2020 to four years in prison for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”. In protest against this injustice and the mistreatment to which she was subjected, she went on a hunger strike that resulted in her being shackled and force-fed. Her friends and family now fear for her life, and her health has worsened dramatically in recent weeks. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/11/06/chinese-journalist-zhang-zhan-at-imminent-risk-of-death/

Independence Prize
The 2021 Prize for Independence, which rewards journalists, media outlets or NGOs that have resisted financial, political, economic or religious pressure in a noteworthy manner, has been awarded to Palestinian journalist Majdoleen Hassona.

Majdoleen Hassona
Majdoleen Hassona

Before joining the Turkish TV channel TRT and relocating to Istanbul, this Palestinian journalist was often harassed and prosecuted by both Israeli and Palestinian authorities for her critical reporting. While on a return visit to the West Bank in August 2019 with her fiancé (also a TRT journalist based in Turkey), she was stopped at an Israeli checkpoint and was told that she was subject to a ban on leaving the territory that had been issued by Israeli intelligence “for security reasons”. She has been stranded in the West Bank ever since but decided to resume reporting there and covered the anti-government protests in June 2021 following the death of the activist Nizar Banat.

Impact Prize
The 2021 Prize for Impact, which rewards journalists, media outlets or NGOS that have contributed to clear improvements in journalistic freedom, independence and pluralism, or increased awareness of these issues, has been awarded to the Pegasus Project.

The Pegasus Project
The Pegasus Project

The Pegasus Project is an investigation by an international consortium of more than 80 journalists from 17 media outlets* in 11 different countries that was coordinated by the NGO Forbidden Stories with technical support from experts at Amnesty International’s Security Lab. Based on a leak of more than 50,000 phone numbers targeted by Pegasus, spyware made by the Israeli company NSO Group, the Pegasus Project revealed that nearly 200 journalists were targeted for spying by 11 governments — both autocratic and democratic — which had acquired licences to use Pegasus. This investigation has made people aware of the extent of the surveillance to which journalists are exposed and has led many media outlets and RSF to file complaints and demand a moratorium on surveillance technology sales. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/11/10/palestinian-ngos-dubbed-terrorist-were-hacked-with-pegasus-spyware/

“For defying censorship and alerting the world to the reality of the nascent pandemic, the laureate in the ‘courage’ category is now in prison and her state of health is extremely worrying,” said RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire.

“For displaying a critical attitude and perseverance, the laureate in the ‘independence category has been unable to leave Israeli-controlled territory for the past two years. “For having revealed the scale of the surveillance to which journalists can be subjected, some of the journalists who are laureates in the ‘impact’ category are now being prosecuted by governments.

https://rsf.org/en/news/chinese-journalist-palestinian-journalist-and-pegasus-project-receive-2021-rsf-press-freedom-awards

US Court says Facebook can pursue lawsuit against NSO Group

November 10, 2021

On 8 November 2021 media (here Reuters) reported that a U.S. appeals court said Facebook can pursue a lawsuit accusing Israel’s NSO Group of exploiting a bug in its WhatsApp messaging app to install malware allowing the surveillance of 1,400 people, including journalists, human rights activists and dissidents. In a 3-0 decision on Monday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco rejected privately owned NSO’s claim it was immune from being sued because it had acted as a foreign government agent. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/10/04/big-coalition-urges-un-to-denounce-abuses-facilitated-by-spyware-technologies/

Facebook, now known as Meta Platforms Inc, sued NSO for an injunction and damages in October 2019, accusing it of accessing WhatsApp servers without permission six months earlier to install its Pegasus malware on victims’ mobile devices. NSO has argued that Pegasus helps law enforcement and intelligence agencies fight crime and protect national security.

It was appealing a trial judge’s July 2020 refusal to award it “conduct-based immunity,” a common law doctrine protecting foreign officials acting in their official capacity. Upholding that ruling, Circuit Judge Danielle Forrest said it was an “easy case” because NSO’s mere licensing of Pegasus and offering technical support did not shield it from liability under federal law, which took precedence over common law.

Whatever NSO’s government customers do with its technology and services does not render NSO an ‘agency or instrumentality of a foreign state,'” Forrest wrote. “Thus, NSO is not entitled to the protection of foreign sovereign immunity.”

The case will return to U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton in Oakland, California.

Asked for comment on the decision, NSO said in an email that its technology helps defend the public against serious crime and terrorism, and that it “stands undeterred in its mission.”

WhatsApp spokesman Joshua Breckman in an email called the decision “an important step in holding NSO accountable for its attacks against journalists, human rights defenders and government leaders.”

Facebook’s case drew support from Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O), Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) Google and Cisco Systems Corp (CSCO.O), which in a court filing called surveillance technology such as Pegasus “powerful, and dangerous.”

On Nov. 3, the U.S. government blacklisted NSO and Israel’s Candiru for allegedly providing spyware to governments that used it to “maliciously target” journalists, activists and others. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/11/10/palestinian-ngos-dubbed-terrorist-were-hacked-with-pegasus-spyware/.

https://www.reuters.com/technology/facebook-can-pursue-malware-lawsuit-against-israels-nso-group-us-appeals-court-2021-11-08/

https://gadgets.ndtv.com/apps/news/facebook-meta-pegasus-nso-group-lawsuit-whatsapp-hack-spyware-us-appeals-court-2604175

Palestinian NGOs dubbed terrorist were hacked with Pegasus spyware

November 10, 2021

Investigation by Front Line Defenders finds NGO employees’ phones were infiltrated months before Israel designated them as ‘terrorist organisations’

Phones of Palestinians working for human rights organisations recently designated by Israel as “terrorist organisations” [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/10/23/assault-by-israel-on-palestinian-human-rights-ngos/] were hacked using the Israeli-made spyware at the heart of a global surveillance scandal. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/07/21/nsos-pegasus-spyware-now-really-in-the-firing-line/]

Dublin-based Front Line Defenders (FDL) examined 75 phones belonging to Palestinian human rights workers and detected that six were infected with Pegasus spyware between July 2020 and April 202. Four out of the six phones belong to staff members at NGOs that were blacklisted last month for alleged ties to a group labelled by some states as a “terrorist organisation”, a move that has sparked international condemnation.

Those alleged to have been hacked include US citizen Ubai al-Aboudi, who heads the Bisan Center for Research and Development, and French national Salah Hammouri, a researcher at Addameer. 

At a press conference in Ramallah on Monday, representatives of the six organisations called for the international community to take action. “We call on the United Nations to launch an investigation to disclose the party that stood behind using this programme on the phones of human rights activists, a move that put their lives at risk,” Tahseen Elayyan, a legal researcher with Al-Haq, told Reuters.

FDL’s findings, which were reviewed and confirmed by Citizen Lab and Amnesty International Security Lab, will raise further concerns about Pegasus, the controversial spyware alleged to have been used to hack heads of state, journalists and activists in a series of explosive stories published this summer.

NSO Group, the Israeli-based tech firm behind Pegasus, only licences the product to sovereign states or the law enforcement or intelligence agencies of those states.

Haaretz reported on Monday that the export licence issued by the Israeli defence ministry to NSO Group only permits Israeli security services to monitor Israeli phone numbers.

An FDL spokesperson told Middle East Eye on Monday that the organisation does not know which state was behind the hacking it uncovered, but believes that the timeline of events over the past month may be critical in answering that question.

On 16 October, three days before the organisations were designated, Al-Haq approached FDL, suspecting that a staff member’s phone had been hacked. The same day, an FDL investigator found initial traces of Pegasus on the phone.

The following day, on 17 October, FDL said it held a meeting with all six organisations to inform them of the initial findings and see if others would want their phones investigated. NSO Group: US blacklists Israeli firms for harming ‘national security interests’.

On 18 October, Israel’s interior ministry notified Hammouri of its decision to revoke his permanent residency in Jerusalem and deport him on the basis of his alleged “breach of allegiance to the State of Israel”.

Then on 19 October, Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz designated all six organisations which had gathered with FDL as “terrorist organisations.”

At this point, the organisations were reportedly only considered “terrorist” groups in Israel. But on 3 November – just ahead of the release of FDL’s findings –  Israel’s commander-in-chief of the Central Command issued an order to outlaw the organisations in the West Bank.

“It seems to us that [Israeli officials] were slow to react to what was transpiring and they were unprepared,” FDL spokesperson Adam Shapiro told MEE. “It suggests we caught them doing something they didn’t want us to.”

However, Shapiro emphasised that FDL could not say definitively what state was behind the hacking, a comment echoed by Addameer’s director, Sahar Francis.

“We don’t have evidence. We can’t accuse a certain party since we don’t have yet enough information about who carried out that action,” she told Reuters, calling on the UN to launch an investigation.

Israeli officials have not made a public statement yet about FDL’s findings. NSO Group told Reuters the company “does not operate the products itself … and we are not privy to the details of individuals monitored”.

The US government last week blacklisted the NSO Group and a second Israeli spyware firm, Candiru, saying their activities are contrary to US foreign policy and national security interests.

https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/israel-spyware-pegasus-used-hack-palestinian-rights-activists-phones

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/nov/08/hacking-activists-latest-long-line-cyber-attacks-palestinians-nso-group-pegasus-spyware

https://www.occrp.org/en/daily/15450-experts-pegasus-spyware-found-in-phones-of-palestinian-activists

https://www.timesofisrael.com/report-palestinian-activists-phones-hacked-with-controversial-nso-group-tech/

Big Coalition urges UN to denounce abuses facilitated by spyware technologies

October 4, 2021

During the 28th U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC) Access Now joined 94 other civil society organizations and independent experts in urging member states to denounce abuses facilitated by spyware technologies.

The Pegasus Project revealed a long list of journalists, activists, human rights defenders, lawyers, world leaders, and civil society actors that were a target of NSO Group’s Pegasus Spyware. The U.N. HRC should mandate comprehensive measures to investigate and prevent further violations linked to the sale, export, and use of Pegasus spyware and cases of targeted surveillance. For earlier post on this hot topic, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/pegasus/

Member States must urgently act to address the perpetual human rights abuses by States facilitated by NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware,” said Laura O’Brien, UN Advocacy Officer at Access Now. “The clandestine surveillance industry must be held accountable.

The recent revelations showcased the unprecedented scale of human rights violations by States facilitated by the use of Pegasus with Budapest-based photojournalist Dániel Németh being the latest victim targeted by the spyware.

In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), governments continue to use digital surveillance tools to target journalists and activists. In 2016, a Citizen Lab investigation revealed that the UAE spied on human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor, who is now serving 10 years in prison under inhumane conditions. The Pegasus Project revealed that friends and family of slain Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, were also targets of Pegasus spyware with the iPhone of Khashoggi’s Turkish fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, targeted and successfully infected. Last June, Access Now and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights launched the MENA Surveillance Coalition, convening civil society organizations working to defend freedom of expression, privacy, and fundamental rights, to call for an end to the sales of digital surveillance tools to repressive governments in the region.

“Invasive surveillance invades and corrodes the lives and work of human rights defenders, journalists, and activists across the globe,” said Kassem Mnejja, MENA Campaigner at Access Now. “Companies like NSO have been given free rein to proliferate the market with the dangerous Pegasus spyware used to facilitate these dehumanising and unsafe actions — this must end now.”

Despite the mounting evidence of its human rights abuses, the NSO Group continues to repeat its false claim that its spyware is only used for legitimate purposes like investigating crime and terror. This cannot continue.

U.N. human rights experts and civil society groups have previously called on governments to immediately implement a global moratorium on the sale, export, transfer, and use of private surveillance technology. Supporting this call, civil society organizations and independent experts are today requesting member states of the U.N. HRC to urgently denounce and mandate independent investigations into the human rights violations facilitated by this technology.

Read the full letter.

https://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/WO2110/S00016/act-now-against-spyware-coalition-tells-un-human-rights-council.htm

NSO’s Pegasus spyware now really in the firing line

July 21, 2021

Frank Andrews in the Middle East Eye of 20 July 2021 tracks the history of the unhealthy story to which also thsi blog has regularly paid attention: see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/nso-group/

Claims made this week that the Israeli company’s Pegasus spyware technology has been used to surveil 50,000 phones – belonging to heads of state, journalists, human rights defenders, political opponents and more – may be the highest-profile accusations against the firm, but they are not the first.

Pegasus, which infects phones with spyware through various means, has proven to be a boon to digital authoritarians wanting to track anyone perceived as critical of their rule. It has also been the subject of numerous lawsuits and legal complaints.

It begun in August 2016, when the United Arab Emirates was found to be tracking the iPhone of Emirati human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor using Pegasus spyware, according to a report by Citizen Lab and Lookout Security. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/08/29/apple-tackles-iphone-one-tap-spyware-flaws-after-mea-laureate-discovers-hacking-attempt/]

Geneva experts on cybersecurity and digital governance tell Geneva Solutions what citizens must do to stem the erosion of our right to privacy.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, in a statement, said that the revelations “are extremely alarming, and seem to confirm some of the worst fears about the potential misuse of surveillance technology to illegally undermine people’s human rights.” See statement by @UNHumanRights Chief @mbachelet: https://ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/

https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/israel-pegasus-spyware-nso-group-history-accusations-denials

https://www.rawstory.com/as-un-human-rights-chief-urges-stricter-rules-snowden-calls-for-end-to-spyware-trade/https://www.rawstory.com/as-un-human-rights-chief-urges-stricter-rules-snowden-calls-for-end-to-spyware-trade/

https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/the-making-of-pegasus-from-startup-to-spy-tech-leader-israel-invasive-spyware-7414370/

New investigation shows global reach of NSO Group’s spyware

July 5, 2021

On 3 July 2021, a new interactive online platform by Forensic Architecture, supported by Amnesty International and the Citizen Lab, maps for the first time the global spread of the notorious spyware Pegasus, made by cyber-surveillance company NSO Group.

‘Digital Violence: How the NSO Group Enables State Terror’ documents digital attacks against human rights defenders around the world, and shows the connections between the ‘digital violence’ of Pegasus spyware and the real-world harms lawyers, activists, and other civil society figures face.   NSO Group is the worst of the worst in selling digital burglary tools to players who they are fully aware actively and aggressively violate the human rights of dissidents, opposition figures, and journalists. Edward Snowden, President of Freedom of the Press Foundation.

NSO Group is a major player in the shadowy surveillance industry. The company’s Pegasus spyware has been used in some of the most insidious digital attacks on human rights defenders. When Pegasus is surreptitiously installed on a person’s phone, an attacker has complete access to a phone’s messages, emails, media, microphone, camera, calls and contacts. For my earlier posts on NSO see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/nso-group/

“The investigation reveals the extent to which the digital domain we inhabit has become the new frontier of human rights violations, a site of state surveillance and intimidation that enables physical violations in real space,” said Shourideh C. Molavi, Forensic Architecture’s Researcher-in-Charge. 

Edward Snowden narrates an accompanying video series which tell the stories of human rights activists and journalists targeted by Pegasus. The interactive platform also includes sound design by composer Brian Eno. A film about the project by award-winning director Laura Poitras will premiere at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival later this month.

The online platform is one of the most comprehensive databases on NSO-related activities, with information about export licenses, alleged purchases, digital infections, and the physical targeting of activists after being targeted with spyware, including intimidation, harassment, and detention. The platform also sheds light on the complex corporate structure of NSO Group, based on new research by Amnesty International and partners.

For years, NSO Group has shrouded its operations in secrecy and profited from working in the shadows. This platform brings to light the important connections between the use of its spyware and the devastating human rights abuses inflicted upon activists and civil society,” said Danna Ingleton, Deputy Director of Amnesty Tech.

Amnesty International’s Security Lab and Citizen Lab have repeatedly exposed the use of NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware to target hundreds of human rights defenders across the globe. Amnesty International is calling on NSO Group to urgently take steps to ensure that it does not cause or contribute to human rights abuses, and to respond when they do occur. The cyber-surveillance must carry out adequate human rights due diligence and take steps to ensure that human rights defenders and journalists do not continue to become targets of unlawful surveillance.

In October 2019, Amnesty International revealed that Moroccan academic and activist, Maati Monjib’s phone had been infected with Pegasus spyware. He continues to face harassment by the Moroccan authorities for his human rights work. In December 2020, Maati Monjib was arbitrarily detained before being released on parole on 23 March 2021.

Maati Monjib, tells his story in one of the short films, and spoke of the personal toll following the surveillance, “The authorities knew everything I said. I was in danger. Surveillance is very harming for the psychological wellbeing of the victim. My life has changed a lot because of all these pressures.”

Amnesty International is calling for all charges against Maati to be dropped, and the harassment against him and his family by the Moroccan authorities to end.

To find out more visit digitalviolence.org

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/07/investigation-maps-human-rights-harm-of-nso-group-spyware/

https://www.techradar.com/news/spyware-toolkit-used-by-governments-hackers-to-break-into-windows-machines

Tech giants join legal battle against NSO

December 22, 2020

Raphael Satter reports on 22 December 2020 for Reuters that tech giants Google, Cisco and Dell on Monday joined Facebook’s legal battle against hacking company NSO, filing an amicus brief in federal court that warned that the Israeli firm’s tools were “powerful, and dangerous.”

The brief, filed before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, opens up a new front in Facebook’s lawsuit against NSO, which it filed last year after it was revealed that the cyber surveillance firm had exploited a bug in Facebook-owned instant messaging program WhatsApp to help surveil more than 1,400 people worldwide. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/20/the-ups-and-downs-in-sueing-the-nso-group/

NSO has argued that, because it sells digital break-in tools to police and spy agencies, it should benefit from “sovereign immunity” – a legal doctrine that generally insulates foreign governments from lawsuits. NSO lost that argument in the Northern District of California in July and has since appealed to the Ninth Circuit to have the ruling overturned.

Microsoft, Alphabet-owned Google, Cisco, Dell Technologies-owned VMWare and the Washington-based Internet Association joined forces with Facebook to argue against that, saying that awarding soverign immunity to NSO would lead to a proliferation of hacking technology and “more foreign governments with powerful and dangerous cyber surveillance tools.”

That in turn “means dramatically more opportunities for those tools to fall into the wrong hands and be used nefariously,” the brief argues.

NSO – which did not immediately return a message seeking comment – argues that its products are used to fight crime. But human rights defenders and technologists at places such as Toronto-based Citizen Lab and London-based Amnesty International have documented cases in which NSO technology has been used to target reporters, lawyers and even nutrionists lobbying for soda taxes.

Citizen Lab published a report on Sunday alleging that NSO’s phone-hacking technology had been deployed to hack three dozen phones belonging to journalists, producers, anchors, and executives at Qatar-based broadcaster Al Jazeera as well as a device beloning to a reporter at London-based Al Araby TV.

NSO’s spyware was also been linked to the slaying of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered and dismembered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018. Khashoggi’s friend, dissident video blogger Omar Abdulaziz, has long argued that it was the Saudi government’s ability to see their WhatsApp messages that led to his death.

NSO has denied hacking Khashoggi, but has so far declined to comment on whether its technology was used to spy on others in his circle.

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-facebook-nso-cyber/microsoft-google-cisco-dell-join-legal-battle-against-hacking-company-nso-idUSKBN28V2WX?il=0

The Ups and downs in sueing the NSO Group

July 20, 2020

Written By Shubham Bose

facebook

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