The Great Hack
Is it time to burn the burners?
July 20th, 2021
The news about Pegasus and NSO Group, its parent company, is horrifying. Pegasus can be used to hack into any mobile phone – Apple or Android – without the operator of the device taking any action. Without so much as a click, it can explore and copy all data on the phone—phones, contact lists, passwords, everything. It can surreptitiously turn on the camera and the microphone and record everything it sees and hears. And of course it knows the exact location of any cell phone it monitors, and can record phone calls—not just the metadata, but the conversations themselves.
The Israeli government commissioned the production of this nuclear spying software, and have been extraordinarily feckless in who they’ve leased it out to. In fact, they’ve been so reckless it’s hard to fathom if they aren’t simply trying a particularly involved form of national suicide. Among the people they’ve entrusted with this software are the United Arab Emirates (better than most middle-eastern governments, but gawds, that’s a low bar) Saudi Arabia, one of the most vicious theocracies on Earth, and Azerbaijan (I wouldn’t trust that government to feed my goldfish).
According to the Guardian, which broke the story, “A recent transparency report released by NSO Group acknowledged the company was ‘closely regulated’ by export control authorities in Israel. The Defense Export Controls Agency (DECA) within the Israeli defence ministry “strictly restricts” the licensing of some surveillance products based on its own analysis of potential customers from a human rights perspective, the company said, and had rejected NSO requests for export licences ‘in quite a few cases’.
I repeat: Azerbaijan? That renowned guardian of human rights? Saudi Arabia? The Emirates?
You have to wonder who the Israelis might consider unfit to have their nuclear spyware. Just the fact that a corrupt fascist pig like Benjamin Netanyahu had control over who got it was alarming enough. The Guardian is reporting that misuse of the spyware has roiled politics in Hungary, Mexico, Russia and other places.
NSO Group claims that it supplies the spyware to governments (51% of leases), police (38%) and intelligence agencies (11%). Given the list (both known and inferred) that the Israelis and NSO deemed fit to possess this spyware, that’s less than reassuring. Intelligence agencies? CIA, SIS or Mossad are bad enough. Russia’s FIS? China’s Ministry for State Security? Turkey’s NIO? We can assume the Ministry of National Security of Azerbaijan is in on the deal. How about North Korea? Kim likes to keep tabs on things, you know.
Police agencies are a concern. I wouldn’t trust Scotland Yard with a cyberweapon like that, and they have a faintly better rep than most national police forces. I definitely wouldn’t want it in the hands of the NYPD or the LAPD. And there’s a lot of police forces that have been surreptitiously infested with Nazis and fascists and other right wing nuts. Hell, I live right next door to Oregon!
Rahul Gandhi, one of the targets of abuse by this program, said: “If your information is correct, the scale and nature of surveillance you describe goes beyond an attack on the privacy of individuals. It is an attack on the democratic foundations of our country. It must be thoroughly investigated and those responsible be identified and punished.”
Edward Snowden felt that Pegasus should be treated like nuclear weaponry because of the mass damage it can do. “If they find a way to hack one iPhone, they’ve found a way to hack all of them,”
They can break in to pretty much any cell phone. You don’t have to click on a dodgy link or call the wrong number. Pegasus does it all for you. I’m told that just turning your phone off is no defense. They can turn it on. About the only way you can ensure your phone isn’t being used to spy on you is buy taking the battery out, at which point you may as well use it as a drink coaster because that’s about all it can do.
NSO Group and Israel say they are extremely careful and screen their clients to ensure that human rights to privacy are not abused. You know. Clients like Azerbaijan. Or the vicious religious cabal running Saudi Arabia? Or India under Modi? Or for that matter, Israel under its far-right government.
What’s worse is that now it’s only a matter of time before it ends up on the dark web (if it hasn’t already) and winds up in the hands of every terror group out there. Or anyone with a nasty sense of humor and a taste for chaos? Or the flat-out psychotic. Even if NSO can safeguard the source code of Pegasus (and Windows’ source code eventually got out), people will realize that the fact that the capabilities of Pegasus exist means that it can be reverse engineered or even reinvented.
It’s only a matter of time, and time may have already run out for 99% of us.
Cell phones are hopelessly compromised. ALL cell phones. Nobody is safe.
So now is the time to start thinking about life without cell phones. They weren’t our greatest cultural advance to begin with, being flooded with spammers and providing poor quality for the price, but now they are an active danger to the security and freedom of our lives.
It may be time to trash our cell phones.
Just be sure to take the battery out and smash the unit with a hammer. That’s the only way you can be sure the personal information it carries isn’t going to Azerbaijan, or the Proud Boys.