Tuesday 21st of September 2021

I spy with my little pegasus...

Pegasus: A terrifying weapon of total surveillance



















“Human rights violations, mass surveillance, espionage, and the geopolitical crisis. The Pegasus case is therefore far from just another "spy case". It is a real democratic scandal at all levels, which poses major questions about the place of civil society in our democracies and the role that we accept to give to new technologies in our lives. “


Les crises: https://www.les-crises.fr/pegasus-une-arme-terrifiante-de-surveillance-totale/



What’s the most problematic tech company in the world? Facebook? Google? Palantir? Nope. It’s a small, privately held Israeli company called NSO that most people have never heard of. On its website, it describes itself as “a world leader in precision cyberintelligence solutions”. Its software, sold only to “licensed government intelligence and law-enforcement agencies”, naturally, helps them to “lawfully address the most dangerous issues in today’s world. NSO’s technology has helped prevent terrorism, break up criminal operations, find missing people and assist search and rescue teams.”


So what is this magical stuff? It’s called Pegasus and it is ultra-sophisticated spyware that covertly penetrates and compromises smartphones. It’s particularly good with Apple phones, which is significant because these devices are generally more secure than Android ones. This is positively infuriating to Apple, which views protecting its users’ privacy as one of its USPs.


How does Pegasus work? Pay attention, iPhone users, journalists and heads of government: your cherished and trusted device will emit no beep or other sound when it’s being hijacked. But the intruder has gained entry and from then on everything on your phone becomes instantly accessible to whoever is running the spyware. Your camera can be secretly activated to take photographs, for example, and your microphone switched on at the whim of a distant watcher or listener. Everything you type on iMessage or WhatApp will be read and logged. And you will have no idea that this is happening. You’ve been “Pegasused”, as it were. And the perpetrator may well be a government, which is interesting if you happen to be a president like Emmanuel Macron or a prime minister like Imran Khan, but potentially fatal if you happen to be ajournalist like Jamal Khashoggi. Those of us who follow these things have known about NSO for quite a while, mainly thanks to the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto, which is the nearest thing civil society has to the National Security Agency. Its researchers have done sterling work tracing the ways in which journalists’ phones have been Pegasused by authoritarian regimes. In December last year, for example, the Lab published the report of an investigation that showed how Pegasus spyware had been used to hack into 36 personal phones belonging to journalists, producers, anchors and executives at Al Jazeera and a phone of a London-based journalist at Al Araby TV. The phones were compromised using an invisible zero-click exploit in iMessage. The hacking was done by four Pegasus customers, two of which appeared to be Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

There’s a good deal more where that came from. NSO’s invariable corporate response is that contractual confidentiality prevents it from identifying its clients and that the company doesn’t itself operate the spyware - it just sells it to sovereign governments and is therefore not responsible for what they do with it. If that reminds you of another industry that sells powerful and potentially dangerous products, then join the club. NSO is basically the same as an arms manufacturer, because its software is regarded by its home government as a weapon and the company needs an export licence before it can sell to anyone. From which we might infer that regimes that get their paws on Pegasus are ones of which the government of Israel covertly or tacitly approves.

NSO is back in the news because Amnesty International, in collaboration with the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project and 16 media organisations, including the Guardian, has launched The Pegasus project, aimed at uncovering who might have fallen victim to the spyware and to tell their stories. The project was triggered when a consortium of journalists gained access to a leak of more than 50,000 phone numbers allegedly entered into a system used for targeting by Pegasus. The list makes for interesting reading, not least because it identifies the governments that are likely to be assiduous users of Pegasus. They include Mexico, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Hungary, India, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and – interestingly – Rwanda.

Until now, NSO’s activities seemed unstoppable: in a Westphalian world of sovereign states that can do what they like, if your home government gives you a licence to export then you’re in business. But recently, three things have changed. First, and most importantly, there are new administrations at the helm in Israel and the US. If Joe Biden decided that NSO’s activities have suddenly become unacceptable, then a serious phone call to the Israeli prime minister might have an effect. Second, Apple is mightily pissed off about having its iPhones compromised and it has more technical clout than even NSO hackers. And finally, the Amnesty project has suddenly brought NSO, blinking, out of the shadows and into the light. Some good may come of this.


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Okay folks… Pay attention… If such a spyware has been exposed, how many more spywares are still hidden in/on our devices?… Or in the ether?… We know that we can corrupt DNA to make pretty fractals...

how it works...

A major journalistic investigation has found evidence of malicious software being used by governments around the world, including allegations of spying on prominent individuals.

From a list of more 50,000 phone numbers, journalists identified more than 1,000 people in 50 countries reportedly under surveillance using the Pegasus spyware. The software was developed by the Israeli company NSO Group and sold to government clients.

Among the reported targets of the spyware are journalists, politicians, government officials, chief executives and human rights activists.

Reports thus far allude to a surveillance effort reminiscent of an Orwellian nightmare, in which the spyware can capture keystrokes, intercept communications, track the device and use the camera and microphone to spy on the user.

How did they do it?

There's nothing particularly complicated about how the Pegasus spyware infects the phones of victims. The initial hack can involve a crafted SMS or iMessage that provides a link to a website. If clicked, this link delivers malicious software that compromises the device.

The aim is to seize full control of the mobile device's operating system, either by rooting (on Android devices) or jailbreaking (on Apple iOS devices).


Usually, rooting on an Android device is done by the user to install applications and games from non-supported app stores, or re-enable a functionality that was disabled by the manufacturer.

Similarly, a jailbreak can be deployed on Apple devices to allow the installation of apps not available on the Apple App Store, or to unlock the phone for use on alternative cellular networks. Many jailbreak approaches require the phone to be connected to a computer each time it's turned on (referred to as a "tethered jailbreak").

Rooting and jailbreaking both remove the security controls embedded in Android or iOS operating systems. They are typically a combination of configuration changes and a "hack" of core elements of the operating system to run modified code.

In the case of spyware, once a device is unlocked, the perpetrator can deploy further software to secure remote access to the device's data and functions. This user is likely to remain completely unaware.

Most media reports on Pegasus relate to the compromise of Apple devices. The spyware infects Android devices too, but isn't as effective as it relies on a rooting technique that isn't 100 per cent reliable. When the initial infection attempt fails, the spyware supposedly prompts the user to grant relevant permissions so it can be deployed effectively.



Apple devices are generally considered more secure than their Android equivalents, but neither type of device is 100 per cent secure.

Apple applies a high level of control to the code of its operating system, as well as apps offered through its app store. This creates a closed-system often referred to as "security by obscurity". Apple also exercises complete control over when updates are rolled out, which are then quickly adopted by users.

Apple devices are frequently updated to the latest iOS version via automatic patch installation. This helps improve security and also increases the value of finding a workable compromise to the latest iOS version, as the new one will be used on a large proportion of devices globally.

On the other hand, Android devices are based on open-source concepts, so hardware manufacturers can adapt the operating system to add additional features or optimise performance. We typically see a large number of Android devices running a variety of versions — inevitably resulting in some unpatched and insecure devices (which is advantageous for cybercriminals).

Ultimately, both platforms are vulnerable to compromise. The key factors are convenience and motivation. While developing an iOS malware tool requires greater investment in time, effort and money, having many devices running an identical environment means there is a greater chance of success at a significant scale.

While many Android devices will likely be vulnerable to compromise, the diversity of hardware and software makes it more difficult to deploy a single malicious tool to a wide user base.


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french silence...

Almost two weeks after the revelations of an international consortium of journalists about the Pegasus affair, the Elysee remains silent despite numerous requests for clarification from the press. 



"If the facts are true, they are obviously very serious", had reacted the Elysee at the time of the revelation of the Pegasus affair. Since then, the Presidency of the Republic has remained silent, including in the face of requests from the newspaper Le Monde


In an article published on July 30, the daily is surprised that “twelve days after the revelations, despite regular requests from Le Monde, the Elysee has still not communicated on the results of these analyzes, if only to rule out the thesis of piracy at the highest point of the state.” 



Several unanswered questions are raised: whether the Head of State broached confidential subjects in his infected phone, whether other members of the government were also concerned or whether European countries were using the Pegasus software. The founder of Mediapart, Edwy Plenel, for his part judged on July 30 that such a silence was "incomprehensible" and also considered that reading "the list of questions of public interest to which the authorities do not answer [makes it possible to] understand may this silence hide something”.


Learn more about RT France: https://francais.rt.com/france/89236-elysee-toujours-mutique-apres-revelations-sur-logiciel-pegasus


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pegasus infected...

France’s National Agency for the Security of Information Systems (ANSSI) has confirmed that three French journalists had their devices infected with the Israeli spyware Pegasus.

Iconic whistleblower Edward Snowden called the development “enormous.”

Traces of the Israeli NSO Group’s spyware were found by ANSSI on the phones of Mediapart co-founder and president Edwy Plenel, Mediapart investigative journalist Lénaïg Bredoux, and a journalist at the French state-owned news channel France 24, according to Le Monde.

It marks the first time an official state authority has confirmed the findings of news outlets who reported the spyware last month. ANSSI reportedly informed the Paris public prosecutor of its discovery.

Snowden, whose 2013 leaks revealed the extent of US surveillance programs, described the report as “enormous” on Twitter, arguing, “If they will do it in France, they will do it anywhere. Shut them down—ban the exploit trade.”

Enormous: official confirmation of the allegations regarding Israeli hacking-for-hire company NSO Group's involvement in targeted attacks on EU journalists. If they will do it in France, they will do it anywhere. Shut them down—ban the exploit trade.https://t.co/gw2M9Je1nf

— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) August 3, 2021


An unnamed source at France 24 told The Guardian that the company had been “extremely shocked” by the news and was “stupefied and angry that journalists could be the object of spying.”

“We will not be taking this lying down. There will be legal action,” the source added.


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