In Latest Black Eye For NSO Group, Dubai's King Found To Have Used NSO Spyware To Hack His Ex-Wife's Phone
from the slumming-it-as-a-service dept
NSO Group has endured some particularly bad press lately, what with leaked data pointing to its customers’ targeting of journalists, political figures, religious leaders, and dissidents. That its powerful spyware would be abused by its customers was not surprising. Neither were the findings from the leaked data, which only confirmed what was already known.
Despite this, NSO continues to make contradictory claims. First, it says it has no control (or visibility) as to how its customers use its products — customers that include some notorious abusers of human rights. Second, it says that it cuts off customers who abuse its products to target people who only annoy their governments, rather than directly threaten it with criminal or terrorist acts.
Well, it’s either one or the other. And if NSO is waiting for secondhand reports about abusive deployments to act, it really shouldn’t be in the intel business. If NSO wants to stay above the fray, it could start by being a lot more selective about who it sells to.
If you’re not selective, your customers will not only pettily target people (critics, activists, journalists, dissidents) the government doesn’t like but will move on to the extreme pettiness of targeting people certain government officials don’t like.
This latest nadir for NSO Group comes courtesy of court proceedings, which illustrates the danger of putting powerful cellphone exploits in the hands of the wrong people.
Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum ordered the phones of his ex-wife and her lawyers to be hacked as part of a “sustained campaign of intimidation and threat” during the custody battle over their children, England’s High Court has ruled.
Mohammed used the sophisticated “Pegasus” software, developed by Israeli firm NSO for states to counter national security risks, to hack the phones of Princess Haya bint al-Hussein, half-sister of Jordan’s King Abdullah, and some of those closely connected to her, according to the rulings.
That’s the sort of thing you can expect to happen when powerful hacking tools are given to people who have never proven they’re capable of handling power responsibly. Adding to the irony is the fact that the King’s ex was tipped off by the wife of Tony Blair, who used to work as an outside legal adviser for NSO Group.
Now that this has been exposed, NSO is finally ready to take action.
Once the hacking was uncovered, NSO cancelled its contract with the UAE, Haya’s lawyers said. The Israeli firm said it could not immediately comment on the case, but said it took action if it received evidence of misuse of Pegasus.
Well, duh (to use a technical term). But if NSO is so supposedly “proactive” why even sell to the UAE at all? It’s not as though it has a long, storied history of respecting rights, much less those possessed by women who also happen to have angered the king? While I understand it might be difficult to promise investors steadily-increasing returns if you choose not to sell to questionable entities, it seems like a long run of bad press and government investigations might have the same effect on the bottom line. Or maybe NSO’s investors are just as unconcerned about its partnerships with abusive governments as it is. Whatever the case is, it’s led NSO to where it is now: a company best known for giving oppressive governments even more oppression options.