Jul 11 2022

US Gov’t Flip-Flops on NSO Group Sale to L3Harris

Category: Cyber Spy,SpywareDISC @ 2:26 pm

US Gov’t Flip-Flops on NSO Group Sale to L3Harris

by Richi Jennings on July 11, 2022

NSO Group, notorious makers of the notorious Pegasus spyware, has been in acquisition talks with a huge U.S. government defense contractor you’ve never heard of: L3Harris Technologies, Inc. Doesn’t that give you a warm, tingly feeling inside?

Pictured is Christopher E. “Call Me Chris” Kubasik, L3Harris’s chairman and CEO. He’s no doubt disappointed that the White House put the kibosh on the deal—especially as other bits of the government gave tacit approval (or so we’re told).

But is everything quite as it seems? In today’s SB Blogwatch, we pay attention to the man behind the curtain.

Your humble blogwatcher curated these bloggy bits for your entertainment. Not to mention: WINBOOT.AVI

POTUS Vs. CIA and FBI

What’s the craic? Mark Mazzetti, Ronen Bergman and Susan C. Beachy report—“Defense Firm Said U.S. Spies Backed Its Bid for Pegasus Spyware Maker”:

“L3Harris and NSO declined to comment”
A team of executives from an American military contractor quietly … in recent months [attempted] a bold but risky plan: purchasing NSO Group, the cyber hacking firm that is as notorious as it is technologically accomplished. … They started with the uncomfortable fact that the United States government had put NSO on a blacklist just months earlier [because it] had acted “contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States,” the Biden administration said.

But five people familiar with the negotiations said that the L3Harris team had brought with them a surprising message: … American intelligence officials, they said, quietly supported its plans to purchase NSO, whose technology over the years has been of intense interest to … the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. [But news of the] talks to purchase NSO seemed to blindside White House officials, [who] said they were outraged … and that any attempt by American defense firms to purchase [NSO Group] would be met by serious resistance.

While not a household defense industry name … L3Harris earns billions each year from American government contracts. … The company once produced a surveillance system called Stingray.

L3Harris and NSO declined to comment. … A spokeswoman for Avril Haines, the director of national intelligence, declined to comment. … The Commerce Department declined to give specifics about any discussions.

One arm of the government doesn’t know what another is doing? Say it ain’t so! Stephanie Kirchgaessner says it’s so—“US defence firm ends talks to buy NSO”:

“Definitive pushback”
A person familiar with the talks said L3 Harris had vetted any potential deal for NSO’s technology with its customers in the US government and had received some signals of support from the American intelligence community. [But,] sources said, L3Harris had been caught off guard when a senior White House official expressed strong reservations about any potential deal.

Once L3Harris understood the level of “definitive pushback”, a person familiar with the talks said, “there was a view … that there was no way L3 was moving forward with this. … If the government is not aligned, there is no way for L3 to be aligned,” the person said.

What’s the big problem? Duncan Riley drives the point home:

“Could have resulted in the blacklisting being lifted”
A deal for all or part of NSO would not be as simple as the two companies agreeing to terms, requiring permission from both the U.S. and Israeli governments. … NSO Group, with its Pegasus spyware, has been one of the most controversial cybersecurity companies of recent times. Pegasus is a form of software that uses zero-day or unpatched exploits to infect mobile devices.

The deal falling apart may also leave NSO in a difficult situation: With the blacklisting in place, the company is limited in whom it can sell Pegasus to and what technology it can purchase. In contrast, an acquisition by an American company could have resulted in the blacklisting being lifted.

Wait, what? John Scott-Railton holds his horses:

“NSO spent years pretending they changed”
WHOA: Deal … tanked.

[It] helps explain recent signs of desperation from the spyware company. [An] American defense contractor acquiring a demonstrably-uncontrollable purveyor of insecurity would be … atrocious for human rights [and] bad for … counterintelligence.

This is not a company that prioritizes America’s national security. And it doesn’t play well with our tech sector. … NSO spent years pretending they changed … while using all available tricks to hide the fact that they kept doing … risky biz and dictator deals.

ELI5? Look on u/Ozymandias606’s words, ye mighty, and despair:

“Biden visits Israel tomorrow”
Pegasus is a hacking tool [that] can turn anyone’s phone into a tracking and recording device without the owner clicking a link. [It] has been sold to governments over the past several years [who] used Pegasus to spy on journalists and activists.

The Commerce Department added Pegasus’ creator to a blacklist that has been slowly choking the company. … A US defense contractor later offered to buy Pegasus – and claims they had explicit permission from US intelligence agencies to do so under a number of conditions, [which] include turning over the software’s source code to the “Five Eyes” cybersecurity alliance.

So, a handful of Western nations … were trying to control access to a cyber weapon that appears to take control of any phone in the world. … Biden visits Israel tomorrow – his first visit to the country.

Are you hinting what I think you’re hinting? This Anonymous Coward rents the curtain (but is behind on the payments): [You’re fired—Ed.]

Unfortunately, many Americans are still in denial about what the US govt routinely do. … This is simply Tiktok 2.0 (or Alstrom 3.0).

Anyone who looked at history will recognise the same pattern had happened many times already, including Alstrom in France. US will buy out any company, by force or by trickery, that took lead in any area the US deemed important.

Still, we have Lockdown Mode now. Nothing to worry about, right? Wrong, says u/NidoKangJr:

Lockdown mode is nothing. It can’t work. If the software is compromised, letting software be the security can’t work. Every cell phone really needs to have 3 mechanical switches and a removable battery. 1 switch for power, 1 for the mic and 1 for the camera.

What next? The Combat Desert Penguin—@wolverine_salty—ponders alternative buyers:

Is Thiel interested?

Meanwhile, with a similarly snarky stance, here’s kmoser:

So when is Elon Musk going to make them an offer?

Report: L3Harris Drops Plans to Buy Israel-Based Hacking Tool Maker NSO -  GovCon Wire

Pegasus Spyware – ‘A Privacy Killer’ 

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Tags: L3Harris, NSO Group, Pegasus spyware


Jun 23 2022

NSO Group told lawmakers that Pegasus spyware was used by at least 5 European countries

Category: Cyber Spy,SpywareDISC @ 8:23 am

The Israeli surveillance firm NSO Group revealed that its Pegasus spyware was used by at least five European countries.

The controversial Israeli surveillance vendor NSO Group told the European Union lawmakers that its Pegasus spyware was used by at least five countries in the region.

NSO Group’s General Counsel Chaim Gelfand admitted that the company had “made mistakes,” but that after the abuses of its software made the headlines it has canceled several contracts.

“We’re trying to do the right thing and that’s more than other companies working in the industry,” Gelfand told members of the PEGA committee. “Every customer we sell to, we do due diligence on in advance in order to assess the rule of law in that country. But working on publicly available information is never going to be enough.”

In April, the Parliament set up a new inquiry committee investigating the use of Pegaus spyware and equivalent surveillance software used to spy of phones belonging to politicians, diplomats, and civil society members. The spyware was used to target several European leaders, including Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, and Spanish political groups, Hungary, and Poland.

NSO Group

In February, the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) authority called for a ban on the development and the use of surveillance software like the Pegasus spyware in the EU.

The abuse of this kind of solution poses a serious threat to fundamental rights, particularly on the rights to privacy and data protection. 

“It comes from the EDPS’ conviction that the use of Pegasus might lead to an unprecedented level of intrusiveness, which threatens the essence of the right to privacy, as the spyware is able to interfere with the most intimate aspects of our daily lives.” states the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS). 

“Pegasus constitutes a paradigm shift in terms of access to private communications and devices, which is able to affect the very essence of our fundamental rights, in particular the right to privacy.”

Privacy advocated and cybersecurity experts demonstrated the use of the Pegasus in surveillance campaigns worldwide targeting journalists, political figures, dissidents, and activists.

The bad news is that the business of digital surveillance is growing in scaring and uncontrolled way. Recently, experts spotted other surveillance malware infecting systems worldwide, such as the HERMIT spyware that was linked to an Italian firm.

If you want to read more info on the Pegasus spyware give a look at a report investigating Pegasus spyware impacts on human rights has been launched by the Council of Europe on the occasion of the summer session of the Parliamentary Assembly.

The report was prepared by the Information Society Department with contributions from Tamar Kaldani the former Personal Data Protection Inspector and the State Inspector of Georgia, currently serving as the first Vice-chair of the Consultative Committee of Convention 108 and Zeev Prokopets – an Israeli executive, product designer, software developer and entrepreneur.

“An investigation report released by a global consortium26 revealed that 200 journalists worldwide had been targeted using Pegasus spyware. The Office of the UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression also noted the number of victims of attempted spying through Pegasus, including Mexican journalists, human rights defenders and opposition leaders.27 “The numbers vividly show the abuse is widespread, placing journalists’ lives, those of their families and associates in danger, undermining freedom of the press and shutting down critical media,” – said Secretary-general of Amnesty International.” concludes the report. “The right to freedom of expression and information, as guaranteed by Article 10 of the Convention, constitutes one of the essential foundations of a democratic society and one of the basic conditions for its progress and the development of every individual.”

And it’s like, what … 12, 13,000 total targets a year max, exec says

Pegasus Spyware – ‘A Privacy Killer’ 

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Tags: A Privacy Killer, NSO Group, Pegasus spyware


Apr 19 2022

NSO Group Pegasus spyware leverages new zero-click iPhone exploit in recent attacks

Category: Cyber Spy,SpywareDISC @ 8:23 am

Researchers reported that threat actors leveraged a new zero-click iMessage exploit to install NSO Group Pegasus on iPhones belonging to Catalans.

Researchers from Citizen Lab have published a report detailing the use of a new zero-click iMessage exploit, dubbed HOMAGE, to install the NSO Group Pegasus spyware on iPhones belonging to Catalan politicians, journalists, academics, and activists.

The previously undocumented zero-click iMessage exploit HOMAGE works in attacks against iOS versions before 13.2.

The experts speculate the HOMAGE exploit was used since the last months of 2019, and involved an iMessage zero-click component that launched a WebKit instance in the com.apple.mediastream.mstreamd process, following a com.apple.private.alloy.photostream lookup for a Pegasus email address. 

The experts at the Citizen Lab, in collaboration with Catalan civil society groups, have identified at least 65 individuals targeted or infected with spyware. 63 of them were targeted or infected with the Pegasus spyware, and four others with the spyware developed by another surveillance firm named Candiru. The researchers reported that at least two of them were targeted or infected with both surveillance software.

Victims included Members of the European Parliament, Catalan Presidents, legislators, jurists, and members of civil society organisations, the threat actors also targeted family members.

The researchers also noticed that the content used in the bait SMS messages suggests access to targets personal information, including the Spanish governmental ID numbers.

“With the targets’ consent, we obtained forensic artefacts from their devices that we examined for evidence of Pegasus infections. Our forensic analysis enables us to conclude with high confidence that, of the 63 people targeted with Pegasus, at least 51 individuals were infected.” reads the report published by Citizen Lab.

“We are not aware of any zero-day, zero-click exploits deployed against Catalan targets following iOS 13.1.3 and before iOS 13.5.1.”

This isn’t the first time that Catalans were targeted by the NSO Group Pegasus Spyware, Citizen Lab has previously reported “possible cases of domestic political espionage” after detecting infections with the popular surveillance software. Multiple Catalans were targeted with Pegasus through the 2019 WhatsApp attack, at the time the spyware leveraged exploits for the 

 vulnerability.

The Citizen Lab doesn’t explicitly attribute the attacks to a specific threat actor, but the nature of the targets suggests a link with Spanish authorities. All the targets were of interest to the Spanish government and experts pointed out that the specific timing of the targeting matches events of specific interest to the Spanish government.

“While we do not currently attribute this operation to specific governmental entities, circumstantial evidence suggests a strong nexus with the government of Spain, including the nature of the victims and targets, the timing, and the fact that Spain is reported to be a government client of NSO Group.” concludes the report.

NSO Group pegasus spyware

Pegasus Spyware – ‘A Privacy Killer’ 

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Tags: NSO Group, Pegasus spyware


Jan 29 2022

The Battle for the World’s Most Powerful Cyberweapon

Category: Cyberweapon,SpywareDISC @ 11:49 am

A Times investigation reveals how Israel reaped diplomatic gains around the world from NSO’s Pegasus spyware — a tool America itself purchased but is now trying to ban.

In June 2019, three Israeli computer engineers arrived at a New Jersey building used by the F.B.I. They unpacked dozens of computer servers, arranging them on tall racks in an isolated room. As they set up the equipment, the engineers made a series of calls to their bosses in Herzliya, a Tel Aviv suburb, at the headquarters for NSO Group, the world’s most notorious maker of spyware. Then, with their equipment in place, they began testing.

The F.B.I. had bought a version of Pegasus, NSO’s premier spying tool. For nearly a decade, the Israeli firm had been selling its surveillance software on a subscription basis to law-enforcement and intelligence agencies around the world, promising that it could do what no one else — not a private company, not even a state intelligence service — could do: consistently and reliably crack the encrypted communications of any iPhone or Android smartphone.

Since NSO had introduced Pegasus to the global market in 2011, it had helped Mexican authorities capture Joaquín Guzmán Loera, the drug lord known as El Chapo. European investigators have quietly used Pegasus to thwart terrorist plots, fight organized crime and, in one case, take down a global child-abuse ring, identifying dozens of suspects in more than 40 countries. In a broader sense, NSO’s products seemed to solve one of the biggest problems facing law-enforcement and intelligence agencies in the 21st century: that criminals and terrorists had better technology for encrypting their communications than investigators had to decrypt them. The criminal world had gone dark even as it was increasingly going global.

But by the time the company’s engineers walked through the door of the New Jersey facility in 2019, the many abuses of Pegasus had also been well documented. Mexico deployed the software not just against gangsters but also against journalists and political dissidents. The United Arab Emirates used the software to hack the phone of a civil rights activist whom the government threw in jail. Saudi Arabia used it against women’s rights activists and, according to a lawsuit filed by a Saudi dissident, to spy on communications with Jamal Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post, whom Saudi operatives killed and dismembered in Istanbul in 2018.

The Battle for the World’s Most Powerful Cyberweapon

The World’s Most Terrifying Spyware

Pegasus Spyware – ‘A Privacy Killer’

Finland says it found NSO’s Pegasus spyware on diplomats’ phones

Tags: cyberweapons, diplomats’ phones, Finland, NSO, NSO Group, Pegasus spyware, Pegasus Spyware - 'A Privacy Killer'


Dec 20 2021

Pegasus: Google reveals how the sophisticated spyware hacked into iPhones without user’s knowledge

  • Pegasus spyware was allegedly used by governments to spy upon prominent journalists, politicians and activists.
  • A Google blog has revealed how the sophisticated software was used to attack iPhone users.
  • The software used a vulnerability in iMessages to hack into iPhones without the user’s knowledge.

The Pegasus spyware, developed by Israel’s NSO group, made headlines for being used by governments and regimes across the world including India to spy on journalists, activists, opposition leaders, ministers, lawyers and others. The spyware is accused of hacking into the phones of at least 180 journalists around the world, of which 40 are notable Indian personalities.

Now, a Google blog from the Project Zero team called the attacks technically sophisticated exploits and assessed the software to have capabilities rivalling spywares previously thought to be accessible to only a handful of nations.

The company has also faced multiple lawsuits including one in India where the Supreme Court (SC) set up a three-member panel headed by former SC judge RV Raveendran to probe whether the software was used by the government to spy on journalists and other dissidents.

Apart from India, Apple has also sued the Israeli firm after having patched its security exploit. The company was also banned in the United States after the details of the spyware were revealed. Let’s take a look at how this advanced snooping technology discretely worked on iPhones.

How Pegasus hacked iPhones

According to the Project Zero blog, a sample of the ForcedEntry exploit was worked upon by the team and Apple’s Security Engineering and Architecture (SEAR) group. Pegasus attacks on iPhones were possible due to the ForcedEntry exploit.

Best iPhone in 2021: Which model is right for you? | ZDNet

Pegasus is a spyware (Trojan/Script) that can be installed remotely on devices running on Apple ‘ s iOS & Google ‘ s Android operating systems. It is developed and marketed by the Israeli technology firm NSO Group. NSO Group sells Pegasus to ” vetted governments ” for ” lawful interception ” , which is understood to mean combating terrorism and organized crime, as the firm claims, but suspicions exist that it is availed for other purposes. Pegasus is a modular malware that can initiate total surveillance on the targeted device, as per a report by digital security company Kaspersky. It installs the necessary modules to read the user’s messages and mail, listen to calls, send back the browser history and more, which basically means taking control of nearly all aspects of your digital life. It can even listen in to encrypted audio and text files on your device that makes all the data on your device up for grabs.

Tags: A Privacy Killer, hacked iphone, NSO Group, Pegasus spyware


Sep 02 2021

Zero-Click iPhone Exploits

Category: Smart PhoneDISC @ 2:31 pm

IT’S A SHOCKING revelation: The Bahraini government allegedly purchased and deployed sophisticated malware against human rights activists, including spyware that required no interaction from the victim—no clicked links, no permissions granted—to take hold on their iPhones. But as disturbing as this week’s report from the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab may be, it’s also increasingly familiar.

These “zero-click” attacks can happen on any platform, but a string of high-profile hacks show that attackers have homed in on weaknesses in Apple’s iMessage service to execute them. Security researchers say the company’s efforts to resolve the issue haven’t been working—and that there are other steps the company could take to protect its most at-risk users.

Interactionless attacks against current versions of iOS are still extremely rare, and almost exclusively used against a small population of high-profile targets around the world. In other words, the average iPhone owner is very unlikely to encounter them. But the Bahrain incident shows that Apple’s efforts to defuse iMessage risks for its most vulnerable users have not fully succeeded. The question now is how far the company is willing to go to make its messaging platform less of a liability.

“It’s frustrating to think that there is still this un-deletable app on iOS that can accept data and messages from anyone,” says longtime macOS and iOS security researcher Patrick Wardle. “If somebody has a zero-click iMessage exploit, they can just send it from anywhere in the world at any time and hit you.”

The Stealthy iPhone Hacks That Apple Still Can’t Stop

After another “zero-click” attack, security experts say it’s time for more extreme measures to keep iMessage users safe.

Tags: exploits, iPhone, NSO Group, zero click