Data breach reveals extensive government spying on journalists and political activists

  

Category:  News & Politics

Via:  trotskys-spectre  •  2 weeks ago  •  7 comments

By:   Alex Findijs

Data breach reveals extensive government spying on journalists and political activists
...the determination by government agencies that it was necessary to spy on tens of thousands of people, and hundreds of journalists and activists, is a warning of the lengths that capitalist governments will go to suppress any and all opposition to their rule and trample on democratic rights.

The personal content to Ksenya Aleksandrova's seeded article, ' How Can Democrats LIE So Much ,'  observes that: '...they [presumably Democrats] want to spy on us and censor us.  We must resist.'

Aleksandrova's 'let it all out' [Ksenya's wording, not mine] moment is replete with uncontrolled emotion, gratuitous insults, questionable assertions, plus imprecise, impressionistic and metaphorical language. The talk of 'being extreme morons,' of lacking 'enough brain cells to rub together,' of commenting 'fruit flies,' etc., will never lead to discussion of longstanding US spying and censorship -- the very things which XXJefferson 51 purportedly seeds the article to address. Therein lies the problem.


S E E D E D   C O N T E N T



July 19, 2021

A data breach of the Israeli spy company NSO Group has revealed that the company’s Pegasus software is being used by governments around the world to spy on political dissidents and journalists. The breach, obtained by French media non-profit Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International, included a list of 50,000 phone numbers targeted for infection with the Pegasus spyware.

Many identified targets of NSO’s software are prominent individuals, including hundreds of business executives, religious leaders, academics, union and government officials—including several yet to be named cabinet ministers, presidents and prime ministers—as well as employees of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs).

The list consists of at least 180 targeted journalists, with reporters, executives, and editors from the Financial Times, CNN, the New York Times, France 24, the Economist, Associated Press and Reuters, all identified by the Pegasus project. The Guardian, which has produced a series reporting on the leak titled “The Pegasus project” in coordinating with 16 other news outlets, has stated that it will release further information about the targeted individuals in the coming days as part of its reporting on the issue.

Without forensic analysis of each phone number listed, it is impossible to determine how many phones were actually infected. However, an analysis of a sample of the listed phones by the Pegasus project determined that half, 37 of 67, were infected, indicating potentially tens of thousands of infections.

Regardless of how many phones were actually infected, the determination by government agencies that it was necessary to spy on tens of thousands of people, and hundreds of journalists and activists, is a warning of the lengths that capitalist governments will go to suppress any and all opposition to their rule and trample on democratic rights.

The revelations of the scale and extent of NSO’s spying operations are an astonishing exposure of the ability of governments and intelligence agencies around the world to spy on their populations. An extensive investigation by over a dozen news outlets has discovered disturbing details about the capabilities of the Pegasus spyware.

According to the Guardian, Pegasus software is capable of monitoring all information stored on a smartphone, including texts, emails, and images, as well as encrypted data and contacts lists. It is even capable of accessing the victim’s GPS, as well as activating a cell phone microphone or camera to record the target’s conversations.

Such capabilities suggest that it may have been the GPS tracking features of Pegasus that facilitated the assassination of Mexican journalist Cecilio Pineda Birto in 2017. Pineda was gunned down by four men at a car wash in Altamirano, Mexico just weeks after his addition to the list by one of NSO’s Mexican clients.

Even more concerning is the ability of Pegasus to infect a target’s phone with ease. Earlier infection models relied on texting or emailing a link through which the virus would enter the target’s device. This method was often unreliable, with some known targets sent links that failed to complete the infection. However, recent advancements in NSO’s spyware have allowed it to infect phones through what are called “zero-click” attacks that significantly reduce the risk of failure.

Such attacks enable NSO to infect target devices without any interaction on the part of the victim. These methods exploit “zero-day” vulnerabilities such as bugs in the operating system of a phone that the developer may not even know exist. In 2019, for example, WhatsApp revealed that NSO had been able to send malware to 1,400 devices by exploiting a zero-day vulnerability that allowed Pegasus to infect the device through a phone call, regardless of whether the target answered the call or not.

NSO has also been working to exploit weaknesses in Apple’s iMessage app. Claudio Guarnieri, director of Amnesty International's Security Lab, has been able to identify Pegasus infections of Apple devices as recently as this month, even penetrating Apple’s most recent security updates.

The target may also have their phone targeted remotely through an agent operating a wireless transceiver, and, according to NSO itself, a phone can be infected manually if an agent is able to steal the phone and download the spyware directly.

Using these techniques, Pegasus is virtually impossible to stop. The software is effectively undetectable, living in the temporary memory of a device and leaving no trace once the device is shut down. Furthermore, once infected, the spyware is capable of activating administrative privileges for itself. “Pegasus can do more than what the owner of the device can do,” Guarnieri explained to the Guardian .

Guarnieri continued, “This is a question that gets asked to me pretty much every time we do forensics with somebody: ‘What can I do to stop this happening again?’ The real honest answer is nothing.”

The consequences of the widespread deployment of this software are apparent: NSO is facilitating the extensive spying on journalists and political dissidents by governments with impunity.

According to NSO, it provides its services only to verified military, law enforcement and intelligence agencies in 40 unnamed countries and conducts extensive vetting of clients’ human rights records. Ostensibly, the software is only used to target high profile criminals and terrorists.

However, based on information about NSO’s clients obtained by the Pegasus project, this appears to be patently false. Not only have journalists, political activists and even high-ranking politicians been targets, but the ten countries so far identified by the Pegasus project as clients of NSO are Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Hungary, India and the United Arab Emirates.

Among this list are governments notorious for violating the human rights of journalists and citizens. Notably, Saudi Arabian crown prince Mohammed bin Salman was found to have ordered the assassination of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Several members of Khashoggi’s family, as well as close associates and Turkish officials investigating the murder, were targets for NSO’s spyware.

Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, was allegedly hacked with Pegasus spyware just four days after his murder.

Mexico, with multiple agencies purchasing Pegasus and a suspected 15,000 targets, is the most dangerous country for journalists in the world outside of active war zones. Since 2010, 86 journalists have been killed, including two just last month. Those who investigate the connections and corruption between organized crime, the government and the security forces are often targeted for intimidation and threats of violence.

NSO and its government clients, the list of which will undoubtedly grow with time, is enabling the covert surveillance of any person deemed a threat by the capitalist governments and their intelligence agencies.

Such software will undoubtedly be used to record every move of independent, left wing and socialist journalists and political activists across the globe. This spying will be used to intimidate and threaten them, using the potential of violence as a bludgeon against critical journalism and political dissent. It will also be only a matter of time before such technology is used by companies to spy on their employees and crack down on the efforts of workers to organize against their bosses.

The attempts of governments to use spyware against journalists and their people must be opposed. But the defense of democratic rights cannot be entrusted to the capitalist parties that have assaulted democratic rights for decades and carried out mass surveillance of all electronic communications, as was exposed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013.

In the United States, the Republican Party passed the anti-democratic Patriot Act and the Democratic Party voted to extend it in 2019. In Germany, the grand coalition of the conservative Christian Democrats and liberal Social Democrats voted this June to further expand the surveillance powers of the state.

In every country, it is imperative for the working class to break with these parties, which embrace the assault on democratic rights, and build an independent socialist movement for the defense of democratic rights and freedom of the press.


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Trotsky's Spectre
Freshman Quiet
1  seeder  Trotsky's Spectre    2 weeks ago

In contrast to Aleksandrova's screed, Findijs' piece [as the quote indicates] speaks concretely of government agencies determined to spy on many people, including hundreds of journalist and activists.

Aleksandrova tries to buttress a case by raising voter reform, white supremacy and the failed January 6 coup. Findijs instead sharpens his focus on the Pegasus project, discussing the extent of spying, its means of perpetration, project clients, objects of spying, the software’s capacity to record movement everywhere, and potential abuse of the project, including promotion of violence against critical journalism and political dissent. Findijs draws this conclusion:

'NSO is facilitating the extensive spying on journalists and political dissidents by governments with impunity.'

XXJefferson 51's personal content calls us to 'resist.' Yet neither Aleksandrova nor XXJefferson 51 seem to offer any principled basis FOR such 'resistance.'

Findijs points to the use of spyware against journalists. He calls for the defense of democratic rights. He warns against entrusting this to EITHER capitalist party, and affirms that both parties have for decades maintained massive domestic spy programs.

Findijs is a socialist; but Findijs’ perspective and insights are not limited to those who are socialists. So here is the point: 

Feigning opposition to spying and censorship, XXJefferson 51 and his seed contribute naught to our understanding of it. The special pleading [this is happening, it's bad, so rebuff all Democrats] is more pernicious than an attempt to overlook a shared, bipartisan history of spying. The issue for discussion is this:

Screeds as Aleksandrova's and their use on NT tend to scuttle discussion of conditions requiring redress; the result is that the ends SUPPOSEDLY supported [in this case spying and censorship] are not resisted at all but are rather enabled.

For discussion:

1. Agree/Disagree and why.
2. If you agree, how frequently [ex: as in 20%, 40% 80% of cases] is the discussion of issues similarly derailed on NT by this [often CoC compliant] strategy?
3. If you disagree, which article better makes the case AGAINST spying – Aleksandrova's or Findijs’, and why?
4. Which matters to you more – partisan loyalty, or the prohibition against broad, domestic spying?

 
 
 
Hallux
Freshman Principal
2  Hallux    2 weeks ago

Which one is better? I will only claim having been first, XXJ-51's seed was naught but a partisan screed full of the latest distemic sound and dystopian fury.

 
 
 
Trotsky's Spectre
Freshman Quiet
2.1  seeder  Trotsky's Spectre  replied to  Hallux @2    2 weeks ago

'...naught but a partisan screed full of the latest distemic sound and dystopian fury.'

Precisely!

Feigning partisan opposition to domestic surveillance while offering no principled answer TO domestic spying. Somebody put it this way...

original

Well ... 'security' or ... partisanship. If those involved see a difference ...

 
 
 
Split Personality
PhD Principal
2.1.1  Split Personality  replied to  Trotsky's Spectre @2.1    2 weeks ago

In a different seed the UN was being bashed for it's ineffectiveness.

As long as people are involved and the big three have veto power, it's just as hopeless as partisan bickering on social media.

We are the problem and have a long way to go, evolution-wise, to improve to true insight.

 
 
 
Nerm_L
Senior Principal
3  Nerm_L    2 weeks ago

I suppose we could fall back on the methods used by non-capitalist governments to have people spy on each other.  Embedding operatives into dissident organizations has a proven track record, after all.  Seems to work well for the CCP.  Remember that the KGB is the poster child for government spying.

When big tech can suck all sensitive information into their cloud as a service then this seems rather like a tempest in a teapot.  And the counter to such intrusion seems rather obvious; don't use the technology for sensitive activities.  The user will always be playing on the service provider's turf.

What hasn't been addressed by the generic term 'spying' is what information has been collected?  'Spying' describes a rather broad spectrum of information intelligence.  Is Pegasus intended to bypass encryption so that content can be obtained?  Is Pegasus intended to give notice of activity so that the radio signal can be intercepted?  It's not necessary to collect information from the device; the device is a transmitter and intercepting the signal will suffice.

While the story has been written to heighten fear of the specter of sinister government intrusion the facts are the neighbor's kid can do the same thing with your WiFi.  Microsoft does the same thing every time you start Windows.  Google does the same thing every time you power up your smart phone.  You think Apple isn't 'spying' on you?  Really?

Instead of overwrought apprehension about Pegasus, it might be wise to do a little research on Palantir.

 
 
 
Drakkonis
Senior Guide
3.1  Drakkonis  replied to  Nerm_L @3    2 weeks ago

Much to do about the inevitable, as you point out. Whether it's corporations or governments, data mining (spying) is not going to stop. Corporations data mine because they want to increase their profit and, also, wish to steer the public in the direction they desire. Governments want to control their populations, especially the farther left they are. Today's tech makes it easier than ever before. It won't stop, no matter who's in charge. 

 
 
 
Nerm_L
Senior Principal
3.1.1  Nerm_L  replied to  Drakkonis @3.1    2 weeks ago
Much to do about the inevitable, as you point out. Whether it's corporations or governments, data mining (spying) is not going to stop. Corporations data mine because they want to increase their profit and, also, wish to steer the public in the direction they desire. Governments want to control their populations, especially the farther left they are. Today's tech makes it easier than ever before. It won't stop, no matter who's in charge. 

What is amazing is the outrage over government espionage tracking journalist espionage.  Journalists are in the business of collecting information and means employed are often questionable.  Journalism fits under the generic umbrella of 'spying', too.  Spies spying on spies, if the truth be told truthfully.

And the sympathetic outrage over threats to dissident's privacy seems rather trite.  The separation between dissent and insurrection is a rather fine line, as we have recently seen.

Does it really matter if it's Pegasus collecting an unknown type of information - or - Microsoft recording activity and content to train AI?  

The collection of information is very difficult, if not impossible, to control.  Laws to make it illegal for the neighbor to use binoculars to peep through your windows isn't an enforceable law.  Such laws would put paparazzo journalists in prison.  Headlines that titillate with stories of celebrities that are spied in private tells its own story of espionage.  A Nikon can do the same thing as Pegasus.

What is needed are safeguards on use of collected information.  It's really not practical to make collection of information illegal.  But it's more difficult to hide use of that information for some purpose; the cause-effect relationship can be traced. 

 
 
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