A new 'digital violence' platform maps dozens of victims of NSO Group's spyware ' TechCrunch

A new digital violence platform maps the victims of NSO Groups spyware. The research uncovers new connections between phone hacks, real-world violence, and other forms of violence.Researchers have now mapped all known targets, including activists, journalists, and human rights advocates, whose phones were hacked using Pegasus, a spyware created by NSO Group.Forensic Architecture is an academic unit at Goldsmiths University of London, that investigates human right abuses. They scoured numerous reports from human rights organizations, conducted open-source research, and interviewed dozens of victims to uncover over a thousand data points. These include device infections. This information shows relations and patterns between the digital surveillance carried by NSOs government clients and the real world intimidation, harassment, and violence that victims are also subject.Researchers can map out these data points using a custom platform. They can then show how nation-states that use Pegasus for spying on their victims also target other victims in their network and get entangled in assaults, arrests and disinformation campaigns against not only the victims but their families and friends.The project is intended to give researchers and investigators tools and data about NSO activities around the world, although the data-points are only a small portion of the total use of Pegasus by governments. However, the spyware maker takes great care to keep the data out of the public eye.Pegasus activates all your electronic devices, including your camera and microphone.Pegasus is a spyware developed by Israel's NSO Group. It allows government customers to have unrestricted access to victims devices, as well as their personal data, and location. NSO Group has repeatedly refused to identify its customers, but it is believed to have contracts with government agencies in at least 45 countries. This includes Rwanda, Israel Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Mexico. All of these countries are accused of human rights violations as well as Western countries like Spain.Shourideh Mollavi, Forensic Architectures' researcher in charge, said that the new findings show how the digital domain has become a new frontier for human rights violations. It is a site where state surveillance and intimidation enable physical violations in real-space.This platform shows a visual timeline of victims of spyware and violence in government campaigns against their most outspoken critics.Omar Abdulaziz was a Saudi activist and video blogger living in exile in Montreal. In 2018, the Pegasus malware hacked his phone. His phone was hacked shortly after Saudi emissaries attempted to convince Abdulaziz that he should return to the Kingdom. Two of Abdulaziz's brothers in Saudi Arabia were later arrested and his friends were detained.Abdulaziz was a trusted confidant to Jamal Khashoggi, Washington Post journalist. Saudis de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved his murder. Also, information about Abdulaziz's Twitter account was obtained by a state sponsored actor. This later turned out to be a Saudi spy working for Twitter. Yahoo News reported that this stolen data (which included Abdulaziz's phone number) was what allowed the Saudis to penetrate Abdulaziz's phone and read Khashoggi's messages in real time.Carmen Aristegui, a Mexican journalist, is another victim. Her phone was hacked multiple times by Pegasus customers, most likely from Mexico, in 2015 and 2016. University of Toronto's Citizen Lab discovered that Emilio Aristegui, her son at the time, was also hacked while he was in the United States. The digital intrusions against Aristegui and her son, Emilio, were recorded by her colleagues. They discovered that hackers had intensified their efforts after they exposed corruption in Mexico's former president Enrique Pea Nieto.Aristegui said that it is malware that activates your camera and microphone, as well as other important parts of your life. Aristegui spoke about her son's phone being targeted.Aristegui stated that the use of these systems of digital violence by the state or anyone else can cause a tremendous amount of damage to journalistic responsibility. This is a huge problem for journalists and affects the society's right to be informed.This platform draws upon recent Amnesty International investigations into NSO Groups corporate structure. These findings show how NSO spyware has spread to governments and states using a complex network to hide its customers. Forensic Architectures follows the path of private investment since NSOs creation in 2015. This likely allowed the sale of spyware to governments that NSO wouldn't ordinarily have access because of Israeli export restrictions.NSO Groups Pegasus spyware should be viewed and treated in the context Israel's ongoing occupation as a weapon. Eyal Weizman (director of Forensic architecture) said that it is disappointing to see the spyware being exported in order to allow human rights violations around the world.This platform was launched just after NSO published its first transparency report this week. Security researchers and human rights advocates criticized the lack of detail in the report, calling it void of value. Amnesty International stated that the report reads more like an advertisement.NSO Group stated that it could not comment on research it had not seen but said it investigates any credible claims of misuse and takes the appropriate action based upon its findings.NSO Group stated that it cannot use its technology to conduct cybersurveillance in the United States and that no customer has been given technology that would allow them to access U.S. phones. It declined to name any government customers.Send tips securely via Signal or WhatsApp to +1 646-755-8499. SecureDrop allows you to send files and documents. Find out more.