Israeli software helped spy on reporters and activists around the world

Investigation says Israeli software helped spy on reporters and activists around the world. So far a considerable number of attacked peop...

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  • Investigation says Israeli software helped spy on reporters and activists around the world.
  • So far a considerable number of attacked people have been identified.
  • President Joe Biden says he discusses a response to recent cyberattacks.

Washington, Jul 18 (EFE News) .- An Israeli software program designed to pursue criminals and terrorists was used to infiltrate at least 37 mobile phones belonging to reporters, human rights activists, company directors and two women close to Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. That is one of the main conclusions of an investigation published this Sunday and carried out by The Washington Post and 16 other media outlets with the help of Amnesty International and the French non-profit organization Forbidden Stories.

Amnesty International and Forbidden Stories had access to a list of more than 50,000 phone numbers and shared them with the media, which used them for their research. Of those 50,000 phone numbers, 37 were infiltrated with the software program, according to the investigation. The program at the center of the controversy is a “spyware” called Pegasus and created by the technological Israeli firm NSO Group, which sells that program to up to 60 military, intelligence or security agencies in 40 countries around the world.

The first appearance of Pegasus

A list of instructions in software code

Pegasus first made the headlines in 2016, when the prestigious Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto discovered vulnerabilities in iOS, Apple’s mobile operating system. Later, in 2019, 1,400 people, including several Catalan politicians, fell victim to spying by Pegasus, which exploited a WhatsApp vulnerability to infiltrate phones.

Now, however, The Washington Post revealed the existence of a list of 50,000 phone numbers belonging to countries notorious for spying on their citizens or who are clients of the NSO Group. From those numbers, the research authors were able to identify 1,000 people living in 50 countries around the world.

Those identified

A digital illustration of a keyed safe made with drawing software

They include various members of Arab royal families, at least 65 senior business officials, 85 human rights activists, 189 journalists and more than 600 politicians and government officials, including heads of state and government, ministers and diplomats. The Washington Post and other outlets have been unable to find out exactly what the target of the 50,000-name list was. They also don’t know who created the list and how many of the phones were targeted.

At the moment, they have been able to confirm that 37 were infiltrated, even for just a few seconds. Governments or security agencies that used Pegasus to infiltrate the phones of journalists, activists and other politicians have allegedly violated the user license created by the NSO Group, which in theory designed those programs to monitor terrorists and criminals.

It is not known who has the software


Speaking to The Washington Post, the NSO Group declined to identify the governments to which it has sold the spyware. However, the analysis of the media concludes that, of the list of 50,000 cell phone numbers, the largest number -15,000- were in Mexico and belonged to politicians, journalists and trade unionists, among others.

Another large number of possible victims have been located in Qatar, Yemen, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. The investigation also reveals that Pegasus tried to infiltrate the Android phone of Hanan Elatr, who was one of Khashoggi’s wives, just six months before his death. It is not known whether those espionage attempts were successful. In addition, the phone of his later fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, was infiltrated by spyware just days after she died, according to research published today. Speaking to The Washington Post, NSO defended that its programs help save lives and prevent criminal attacks and, in addition, considered that the investigation makes unfounded accusations. EFE News

Biden studies a response to cyber attacks and says he has a message for Putin


Washington, Jul 7 (EFE News) .- President Joe Biden met with his national security team on Wednesday to study a response to cyberattacks such as this weekend against the US firm Kaseya, which affected more than 1,500 companies worldwide. Although US intelligence has not yet released any conclusions on responsibility for the cyberattack, Biden responded cryptically to a journalist’s question whether he has any messages for the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.

“I will deliver (the message) to him,” Biden said of Putin after the White House meeting. The president did not give details about what he was referring to nor did he make further statements about the meeting he had just held, which was attended by those responsible for the departments of State, Justice and National Security, in addition to the US Vice President, Kamala Harris.

The strategies of the Biden government


The White House spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said afterwards that the meeting served to “update” Biden on “the efforts of the entire Government to face the attacks of ‘ransomware’, a program that hijacks data. of the user in exchange for a payment to release them. “They brought him up to date on his work, reinforcing our ability to search (for cyber attacks), our resilience and ability to report on them, to deal with payment systems and to combat ‘ransomware,'” said Psaki during a press conference aboard the Air Force One presidential plane bound for Illinois.

No immediate measure that the White House has decided to make public came out of the meeting, but there was talk of “the fact that the president reserves the right to respond against any network of ‘ransomware’ and against those who harbor them,” said the spokesman. The latest cyber attack occurred this Saturday through Kaseya, a software company based in Miami (Florida), which provides services to more than 40,000 organizations around the world, although Biden said Tuesday that the damages to US companies have been “minima”.

The consequences

Bitcoins produced with software

The REvil group, of Russian origin and whom the experts point to as responsible, has requested a reward of 70 million dollars to allow the affected corporations to resume operations. Psaki affirmed on Tuesday that REvil “operates from Russia with subsidiaries around the world”, and stressed that the US has been “clear” in its conversations with the Russian government, which it accuses of not responding forcefully to cyberattacks. against their companies.

“If the Russian government is unable or unwilling to take action against criminal actors residing in Russia, we will do so, or at least we reserve the right to take action on our own,” the spokeswoman warned. The Kaseya cyberattack follows those suffered in recent months in the US such as Colonial, the largest network of oil pipelines in the United States, and JBS, the world’s largest meat processor, which were victims of operations. similar by hackers. EFE News

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