Never use your phone again
This is the first past of a two-part discussion on the controversy around Pegasus – the cyberintelligence software sold by a Israeli backed Government company and how it has been put to use spying on journalists, politicians, human rights lawyers, and dissidents, around the world.
NSO Group, also known as Q Cyber Technologies, is a private Israeli cyberintelligence company that produces and sells advanced surveillance software to governments and law enforcement agencies around the world. The company was founded in 2010 by two former members of Unit 8200, a cyber warfare unit of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). Unit 8200 is considered one of the most elite intelligence units in the IDF, and its members are considered experts in the field of cyber warfare and intelligence gathering.
NSO Group’s primary product is a surveillance software called Pegasus, which is a sophisticated piece of malware that can be used to remotely monitor and control a target’s smartphone or computer. Pegasus can extract a wide range of data from a target device, including text messages, call records, emails, location data, and even data from the device’s microphone and camera. The software can also be used to record phone calls, intercept text messages, and collect data from apps such as WhatsApp, Facebook, and Viber.
Pegasus has been used by various governments and law enforcement agencies around the world, including those in Mexico, UAE, Saudi Arabia, and India, to conduct surveillance on activists, journalists, and political opponents. The software has also been used to spy on civil society groups and opposition figures, raising concerns about human rights abuses and the erosion of privacy.
NSO Group has come under significant scrutiny from human rights groups and privacy advocates for its products and the company has been accused of selling tools to governments with poor human rights records. In 2019, WhatsApp filed a lawsuit against NSO Group, accusing the company of using a security vulnerability in the messaging app to spread Pegasus to more than 1,400 devices worldwide. In response, NSO Group has repeatedly said it operates within legal frameworks, and that its technology is used to fight serious crime and terrorism.
Unit 8200, on the other hand, is the largest unit in the Intelligence Corps of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) responsible for signals intelligence (SIGINT), as well as operating the Unit’s cyber warfare activities. The unit is often compared to the United States National Security Agency (NSA). Unit 8200’s activities include collecting signal intelligence (SIGINT), conducting cyber warfare operations, and developing offensive cyber capabilities. The unit is also responsible for providing intelligence to the Israeli government and military.
The unit has played a major role in many of Israel’s military and intelligence operations and has been responsible for several technological innovations, including the development of the first instant messaging system for the IDF and the creation of an early warning system for missile attacks. Unit 8200 is also known for developing sophisticated cyber weapons and offensive cyber-warfare capabilities, which it has reportedly used against Palestinian militant groups and Iran.
One example of Unit 8200’s cyber capabilities is the Stuxnet computer worm, which was discovered in 2010. The worm was designed to attack specific industrial control systems, and it was ultimately used to damage centrifuges at Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility. According to media reports, Unit 8200 was involved in the development and deployment of the Stuxnet worm.
Additionally, the unit is also known to operate a cyber defense unit that provides protection against cyber-attacks on the country’s infrastructure and organizations. The unit is thought to be involved in the protection of Israel’s critical infrastructures, including power plants, water facilities, and public transportation.