Israeli Tech Company's Spyware Still Being Used To Target Journalists And Activists

from the buy-it-for-safety,-use-it-for-evil dept

Israeli exploit/malware developer NSO Group says its products are marketed to governments for legitimate national security and law enforcement purposes. Yet somehow it keeps ending up in the hands of governments with terrible human rights records and deployed against journalists, dissent groups, and activists.

The software sold by NSO is being deployed against journalists in Mexico — ones looking to expose government corruption. This report by the Columbia Journalism Review provides more details on the hacks, building off Citizen Lab’s exposure of NSO’s “Pegasus” spyware.

Mexico has been ground zero for Pegasus’s deployment against journalists. At least six reporters have been targeted there, according to exhaustive research by both Citizen Lab and the Mexican digital rights group R3D. Those attacks coincided with major journalistic investigations that challenged the Mexican government. For example: three reporters who were targeted worked on the “Casa Blanca Scandal,” a major story exposing how Mexico’s first lady was given a mansion by a government contractor who later received lucrative contracts. Mexican television journalist Carlos Loret de Mola was targeted while he was reporting on extrajudicial killings. Although three Mexican federal agencies have access to Pegasus, the government has denied it ever launched any attacks on reporters.

This is more of the same for NSO’s spyware. Citizen Lab also uncovered use of the software by notorious humans rights violators like Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, and the United Arab Emirates. In many cases, deployments targeted critics and activists, rather than criminals or national security threats. The deployments are disturbing enough. The tactics are even worse:

The targets received SMS messages that included links to NSO exploits paired with troubling personal and sexual taunts, messages impersonating official communications by the Embassy of the United States in Mexico, fake AMBER Alerts, warnings of kidnappings, and other threats.

CJR’s report is supposed to act as a warning for journalists around the world. They are targets, no matter what their governments say and no matter how NSO frames its pitches.

And we’re not completely immune to this in the United States. Although any deployment against journalists would be viewed as a serious violation of Constitutional rights, the fact is US government agencies are seeking to purchase NSO’s spyware for use in their work. The DEA has met with NSO in the recent past and the agency’s own past suggests it isn’t above violating rights to further its own ends. No rights violations have been seen yet but, as we’ve seen before, the government is willing to impersonate journalists to track down suspects. Infecting journalists’ phones to track down leakers and whistleblowers isn’t that much of a step forward.

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Companies: citizen lab, nso

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Comments on “Israeli Tech Company's Spyware Still Being Used To Target Journalists And Activists”

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Cory Rection says:

No, it STARTS with:

A “government with terrible human rights records and deployed against journalists, dissent groups, and activists.”

First link found within seconds:

“Israeli forces kill 7 Palestinians including 2 teens & 12 year old), injure 509, in Gaza”

Don’t stint Israel: among the world’s WORST.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: No, it STARTS with:

It is dealing with terrorists daily. Your source fails to mention that the people killed were brought there by their parents to put them in harm’s way. They put explosive vests on women and children and send them onto buses to kill everyone aboard, yet you just focus on the headlines and one side of the argument.
Try living in an area where 50% of the population honestly believes you are evil and killing you and everyone like you is blessed by God.
You are wrong for only believing one side and nothing you linked proves your point like you think it does.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: No, it STARTS with:

Maybe they should stop perpetrating terrorist acts against Israel? Maybe the Palestinian terrorists should stop hiding behind civilians? The truth is that the Palestinian government LOVES it when Palestinian blood is spilled- the younger the better. It is the height of hypocrisy to criticize Israel for human rights violations while ignoring the far worse violations done by the Palestinian government.

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