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Israel police uses NSO’s Pegasus to spy on citizens


Once the method exists. i'd just assume its everywhere

We know about Pegasus/NSO and its a fun subject to follow, but in all honesty, every engineer privy to the 0-day bank that powers it could build one of their own, or sell it to another group, and no one would know


Most of their Zero Days are probably short lived and in any case the challenge of running an outfit like NSO isn’t only or even primarily in finding Zero Days.

This isn’t a business model you bootstrap by publishing to an appstore and paying influencer to promote - this isn’t “Raid of Warduty Call of Legends”. You need high level government contacts that can open doors as these deals don’t usually come up on public tenders, and you need people that can manage a relationship with both your host government and client governments especially if either or both are unstable and falling out of favor with a specific regime would result in high legal risk or even actual risk to the safety of you or your employees.

A couple of engineers taking a bag of goodies are more likely than not to end up in prison like the former NSA folks that took up freelancing for Saudi Arabia.


Imagine some group that duplicates Pegasus/NSO -- compromises it but sells it AS Pegasus/NSO to unsuspecting, less-savvy nation-states and effectively uses /IT/ to infiltrate/backdoor the intelligence/LEO ops of said customer state...

Or is that what Pegasus/NSO basically already provide, as a feature?


> Or is that what Pegasus/NSO basically already provide, as a feature?

considering shell are mainly used for deeply corrupt ends, this isn't a far stretch. similarly, things that seem like duopolies today might well be revealed to be monopolies in reality if actual ownership records became public. i imagine the false public perception of a market that has fair competition is very valuable as it maintains the illusion of choice. similarly, regarding spying by USA; i imagine Crypto AG was/isn't the only CIA front.


shell companies*


Anyone interested in this should lookup the PROMIS scandal, which involved Ghislane Maxwell's father Robert Maxwell.


And dont forget to look into the Maxwell Twins - the sisters of Ghislane --> They made initial DB software for the intel community for "tracking financial fraud" and other tracking...

They sold this to .gov and supposedly it was in use in the early '00s - and it provided ostensibly access to tracking financial and human trafficking data..

Think of it as a precurser to palantir and such - and there was a bunch of shady shit around this.

Here is just one sketchy story about it:

but apparently they made counter-terrorism software and that this software was in use in the US intel comm and that it was also compromised...

Regardless of the truth of how it was used - the fact that the most notorious human trafficking/blackmailing operation yet exposed was directly related to providing counter-terrorism software to the USG is.... interesting.

Google the maxwell twins.


Once the method is known to the public and in news articles, I assume it's been employed by govt agencies for years.


"In other cases, NSO’s spyware was installed in the phone of citizens to try to find and collect data and information that isn’t necessarily connected to an investigation or suspicions but simply for investigators to use this data later on as a means of pressure on people being interrogated."

aka Blackmail


And anyone who thinks their own country isnt doing the same is deluded! The Security Services has to protect a country which means getting involved in everything, organised crime as well as business, and then when they feel things need to change direction, the security services have the tools aka blackmail information to make that change happen... in most cases!


I'm only aware of one case where the US government, without warrant, actively hacked its own citizens using a 0day, which was when the FBI exploited a 0day to compromise users of TOR who, as I recall, were looking to access CSAM. Even when going after a bunch of pedophiles I think there was a good bit of controversy there.

I think there may actually have been a warrant for some part of the access, idk.

I'm not saying it doesn't happen but it would be quite a scandal to find that the government was performing warrantless exploitation of citizen's personal devices. Maybe someone can correct me here and show that this has been the case.


If the ability exists, what's to stop them from using it? Good manners?

And what's the incentive for someone to tell us, if they are? Become another Snowden or Assange or Manning? Not a very compelling outcome...


> I'm only aware of one case where the US government, without warrant, actively hacked its own citizens using a 0day

It’s perhaps a bit broader than your definition there, but illegal exploitation and subsequent whitewashing of personal data by law enforcement is common enough that is has a name. Parallel construction.

Another point. For me, being caught zero times doing an illegal thing is a world apart from being caught one time. The chances on you being caught the only time you ever did s specific illegal act is so small that you pretty much go from assumed innocent if you’ve never been caught, to probably guilty if you’ve been caught even once before.

(That’s not an “assumed innocent “ in its legal context, I 100% agree a court should assume 2nd, 3rd, and 100th time convicted people are “innocent until proven guilty” and the prosecution should need to bring a strong enough case ignoring previous conviction to get a fair judgement. But if you’ve been caught using illegal methods before, I’m going to assume it’s something you have convinced yourself is ok, and you’ll do it whenever it suits you so long as you consider the chance of getting caught is low enough.)


"Using an 0day" is carrying a lot of weight there. The Snowden leaks revealed active hacking of American private citizens and companies, e.g. tapping Google's dark fiber lines, intentionally inserting cryptographic vulnerabilities into the Linux kernel, social engineering to end up with control of security standards bodies, etc.

In my opinion, it doesn't matter whether the country used an 0day or not when it's willing to actively, warrantlessly wiretap its citizens en masse. And the fact that the NSA is at this point known to have spent enormous money and effort to insert NSA-designed vulnerabilities into commonly-used cryptographic systems means it's pretty hard to believe it didn't use them — and if that's not an "0day," what is?


A key quote, among many:

"Independent security experts have long suspected that the NSA has been introducing weaknesses into security standards, a fact confirmed for the first time by another secret document. It shows the agency worked covertly to get its own version of a draft security standard issued by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology approved for worldwide use in 2006.

"Eventually, NSA became the sole editor," the document states."


> I'm only aware of one case [...].

Wouldn't this likely mean US is much better than other countries to hide such scandals? E.g. maybe because they spend more money on it?

It could also mean that US media cares less about this than Israel media ([1]). Maybe Israel media has significantly more investigative-journalist manpower than US media. This way we, US citizens, would have fewer people researching such scandals.

[1] EDIT: By "cares less" I meant, as in, US media finds such stories less profitable and thus deprioritizes.


"I'm only AWARE of one case..."

Emphasis mine.


Yeah, no, this is bullshit. People don’t just have agencies (Mossad, CIA), they also have agency as in: the power to change reality. And the vast majority of democratic countries are run by people who have a decent appreciation of the rule of law, which is what stands between your actual freedom and your gloomy fantasies.

Then, there’s also a group of countries that simply cannot afford / don’t have the people to do these things.

How do I know? Consider the usual suspects for these operations: the US, Israel, Russia, and China. For every single one of them, we also have examples of their work that got leaked or otherwise exposed.

What are the chances that Belgium happens to be the country that manages to run such a program and keep it secret? Or Equatorial Guinea?

Then, there’s also the growing list of known customers of NSO: if two dozens of them decided to buy this software, chances are they do not have homegrown solutions with similar capabilities. Nor does it seem as if there were any other sellers at NSO’s scale. Meaning: if we successively learn about all of NSO’s business, we might be getting close to knowing everything there is to know about the sector, with the exception of the large countries mentioned above.


I mean the NSA literally admitted in 2013[0] that the NSA had employees doing stuff like this just for personal reasons. The only real difference is where the data was gathered from and I'm not even sure it's worth differentiating:

> At least a dozen U.S. National Security Agency employees have been caught using secret government surveillance tools to spy on the emails or phone calls of their current or former spouses and lovers in the past decade, according to the intelligence agency’s internal watchdog.

> The practice [...] was disclosed by the NSA Office of the Inspector General



I don't understand your argument: if the shady things they're doing have gotten leaked, isn't this because they were doing those shady things in the first place? Can you conclude one way or the other that the net is so loose that bad things will always see the light of day? Don't forget that with PRISM taking 6 years to be disclosed and MKUltra having taken 22, a lot of people rightly don't have such idealized views anymore.


I'm sorry, but I don't believe that any, much less the vast majority of democratic countries are run by people who have a decent appreciation of the rule of law.

There are certainly plenty of states that cannot afford these programs, or that may choose to spend their resources in other ways, but the big powers are more than willing to assist when their interests align. I think the case of Denmark shows that it's very difficult to anticipate when interests will align, because we sometimes don't even know the identities of the people whose interests matter.


> Or Equatorial Guinea?

100% sure that they have spy software, of course, bought abroad. Equatorial Guinea has oil money and it is one of the most authoritarian countries in the world.


> And the vast majority of democratic countries are run by people who have a decent appreciation of the rule of law

Remarkable claims need remarkable evidence. Where is this democratic country that is run by people who appreciate rule of law?


> The Security Services has to protect a country

Implied is the statement that the end justifies the means. But how do you weigh the proportionality of measures taken? Do you adopt a utilitarian point of view, looking at, say, deaths prevented? Is anything game, or should agencies be expected to uphold a code of conduct, bill of rights or exclude entire categories of information? How do you assess what is or isn't a threat to a country and thereby something it needs to be protected from? What is a country - the president, the party, the government, its citizenry, businesses?

Second, with the popularity of invoking "national security" as an authority argument, how can these agencies ever be accountable? Who watches the watchmen? Are we to trust agencies reporting on the number of e.g. terrorist incidents prevented, especially if the information sources are opaque and there's an obvious conflict of interest?

Third, given the existence of programs like MK Ultra and Cointelpro, is it really safe to say agencies won't try to overreach? With examples like the Stargate program ("Men Who Stare At Goats"), should we have faith they know what they're doing?


Of the roughly dozen questions, I'll try and hit a few points directly to sum up where I believe we ought to be, based on my relatively narrow understanding of US political sciences - please note that many answers to your questions will vary by country and their own democratic maturity.

While I don't agree that there was an implication of the end justifying any type of means, it seems we have already taken a utilitarian point of view. In short, the intelligence community is not allowed to circumvent the constitution and relevant laws (i.e. deprive citizens of their established rights); this is largely in part from the Fourth Amendment (unlawful search or seizure). As legal precedent is an inherently moving goalpost vis-a-vis judicial interpretation, this is a continuous battle in which citizens are aided by transparency and scrutiny of ongoing government programs.

One need not look any farther than the Snowden cases to realize that there is still a strong clinging to this ideal of public transparency, as well as the mountain of evidence that the government ought to be audited to prevent, or at least cease, illegal operations such as PRISM. Judges watch the watchmen - largely in closed-door FISA court hearings, it seems. This bothers me.

However, to think that there is zero benefit to these programs is parallel to naively thinking they are wholly good. I'm willing to wager that there are physical / kinetic and digital events that occur every week which would terrify the average citizen. Transparency is good, don't get me wrong - but there is only so much that some can stomach before feeling ill.

Stay involved in local / state / federal politics. Make noise about things you feel are unjust. Asking good questions is a good thing, but action is what makes the gears turn.


"But everyone does it!" is absolute intellectual laziness at best and outright dishonesty at worst.

No, everybody does most definitely not do this! That is just not true.


This sounds like the purported Epstein scheme on a smaller scale.


In Poland there was a sort of similar story. Politicians from the opposition, lawyers, “difficult” prosecutors have been spied. A few days ago a special commission started investigation but it consists only from opposition politicians. The ruling far-right party pretends this topic does not exist. It’s a farce.


I don't like them as much as you do, but they are not far-right. Throwing terms like this around only makes them devoid of meaning.


Can we stop pretending like Pegasus is not virtually everywhere?If it's not Pegasus is another tool, worse or better, foreign or domestic, from NSA,CIA,etc.Who exactly cares which entity does it as long as it's happening and laws & principles are being broken?

Vault7 was the first leak de facto proving these things existed, why the f#ck are we still surprised now, almost 5 years later, that these things are being used and there is a market here opened for politicians,private individuals, governments, etc.?

Awareness is good, but who(or better said: what institutions, what parties, etc) are you seeing advocating for more privacy, security, transparency in software and hardware, etc?

I will go one step further here beyond the simple "more privacy, security,etc." rhetoric, which i'm sure every HN user has heard to the point of ears bleeding, and I hate to say this but one cannot fully understand something until either s/he makes it, he hacks it(for the purpose of at least understanding) or becomes subject to the tool's effects.Far too many times people use something without even reading the TOS, let alone understanding the mechanisms behind the technology.At this point i have little sympathy for people who do not take the time and putting in the work of understanding a technology >for their own benefit<.

Because nobody who is at least semi-literate in this field was born with the knowledge, and while arguably it's our duty to point less knowledgeable people to inform themselves, we cannot tire ourselves to death by promoting (or allowing others who promote) this "usable-first, hussle-free, happy jolly" tech ecosystem and then also act surprised when the masses don't have a f*cking clue what's going on, because effectively we trained humans to become dumb monkeys with a smartphone, arguably worse.


It's nice to see the rare comment I can relate to. I hardly know anyone IRL who sees the horrorshow for what it is. Snowden was 9 years ago and for that we now get "privacy advocates sounding the alarm". The surveillance complex waited for the waters to clear and doubled down, with spy devices dripping off of every pole, 12 cameras staring down at every city intersection, blank-faced electronic boxes pointed down at the phone, car, watch, and whatever ridiculous consumer gadget du jour takes us one step closer to Total Information Awareness. How much hype has 5G gotten, and for what? So you can download movies fast. So you can plug into the metaverse and pay even less mind to your surroundings. There will come a time in the near future when privacy is effectively outlawed. Radio signals watching you move about your home. Facial recognition fridge (to keep kids out of that chocolate!). Smart technology keeping us safe. Drone swarms patrolling the neighborhood. The anxiety and paranoia will drive people even further into their clutches, into the virtual world where the surveillance is baked in from the ground up, and not affixed to existing physical infrastructure. Still we act like our words can foment change. Woke children change their facebook profile pic in "support". Nobody's listening but to hyperbole and disinformation, as if that's a new concept. Since the dawn of civilization there has been a war on information. The only difference is that each of us now holds our own dazzling propaganda machine in the palm of our hand. Cheers friend.


Comment from duplicate submission:

Some of the companies in the field, in contrast to NSO, do have ethics committees to filter out obviously bad clients. Once when guidelines were described to engineers a question was asked: Would Israel itself pass the ethics committee check?

The answer was "No. But..."


You can argue about it's effectiveness, but NSO does have an ethics committee.


Could you source that anecdote?


I was working at one of the cybersecurity companies and "not being another NSO" was part of internal discussion.

I won't name the company and use temp account deliberately for this comment.


>"Israel is its own nation and it isn't America's business what it does to its own citizens."

Syria is its own nation and it isn't America's business what it does to its own citizens.


now now now, let's not question anything here shall we?


Whenever Israel is involved in anything unfortunately the discussion becomes about anti semitism (sometimes rightly and sometimes wrongly). Maybe it helps if we imagined it was another nation and then see what we think about it. If it was Russia/china or UK/France/Germany would you still think or feel the same?


In India it has been used extensively against social activist, victims of court cases, journalists etc. List goes on and on. It is prime example of how power and money corrupts a system.

Shame on the engineers who developed it.


It's interesting to me why spying on citizens is like this foundational goal of all modern nation states. I get why a state might want to do this but its not clear to me why it seems to be the only stable path for modern democracies.


Governments enjoy having power and control over their subjects. The only reason they didn't do this before is the technology didn't exist in previous centuries. The use of spies was more or less limited to high value targets in times of war. It's not like they could have assigned a spy to every citizen in the country.

Things are different now. Espionage is now automatic and large scale, there's no longer any practical limit on the number of people they can spy on. This is alluring to all kinds of people, from the well-intentioned to the malicious. To them, total surveillance is simply an efficient way to accomplish some goal such as catching some heinous criminal or figuring out what your political opposition is planning. They generally couldn't care less that global surveillance destroys freedom and enables apalling abuses of power at unprecedented scales.

The truth is they would very much enjoy the ability to manage "their" citizens the same way we manage running processes in our computers: total visibility at all times into everything they're doing and the ability to kill them if they become problematic. Traditional police investigations are too hard and time consuming, they want the ability to push a button to reveal the entire life of a suspect.


> It's not like they could have assigned a spy to every citizen in the country.

The East German Stasi came pretty close.


The Darknet Diaries podcast episode about NSO was eye opening.


Can Israelis take the matter to court?


They don't really have a lot of civil rights or even a constitution.