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OPLIN 4Cast #760: Pegasus spyware was made to fight terrorists, but can (allegedly) pwn everyone

Posted in 4cast, and Security

“Pegasus” is a spyware system developed to investigate and prevent terrorism and serious crime. Made by Israeli cybersecurity company NSO Group, it is sold only to government intelligence and law enforcement agencies. But human rights group Amnesty International has released detailed documentation of their investigation finding the software on more than 50,000 phone numbers, including activists, journalists, politicians, teachers, business leaders, and so on. I doubt it’s on my phone presently, but I don’t really find that thought at all comforting.

  • Private Israeli spyware used to hack cellphones of journalists, activists worldwide [The Washington Post] “The targeting of the 37 smartphones would appear to conflict with the stated purpose of NSO’s licensing of the Pegasus spyware, which the company says is intended only for use in surveilling terrorists and major criminals. The evidence extracted from these smartphones, revealed here for the first time, calls into question pledges by the Israeli company to police its clients for human rights abuses.”
  • Spyware successfully broke into journalists’ iPhones by sending iMessages that didn’t even need to be read [Insider] “[Amnesty International] found evidence of ‘zero-click’ iMessage attacks being targeted at journalists going back to 2018, with alarming implications for iPhone security. Zero-click attacks don’t require any interaction from the victim to break into a phone… These most recent discoveries indicate NSO Group’s customers are currently able to remotely compromise all recent iPhone models and versions of iOS.”
  • Apple under pressure over iPhone security after NSO spyware claims [Ars Technica] “Bill Marczak, research fellow at Citizen Lab, a nonprofit group that has extensively documented NSO’s tactics, said Amnesty’s findings suggested that Apple had a ‘major blinking red five-alarm-fire problem with iMessage security.’ A similar kind of zero-click Pegasus attack was identified using Facebook-owned WhatsApp messenger in 2019.”
  • This tool tells you if NSO’s Pegasus spyware targeted your phone [TechCrunch] “The toolkit works on the command line, so it’s not a refined and polished user experience and requires some basic knowledge of how to navigate the terminal… As command line tools go, [it’s] relatively simple to use, though the project is open source so it won’t be long before someone will surely build a user interface for it.”

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