At a glance.
- Security by being boring?
- Greece investigates allegations of snooping on a journalist.
- A journalist investigates NSO Group.
Too boring to hack?
In the wake of more recent revelations that NSO Group’s controversial Pegasus surveillance software is being used to spy on world political figures, Margrethe Vestager. Executive Vice President of the European Commission for A Europe Fit for the Digital Age, appears to be unconcerned. Her reason? Her digital life is just too boring. Speaking at Politico’s AI and Tech Summit on Thursday, the EU's top digital affairs official stated, "Most of my feed is so boring that even if you had access to it, you would think: 'Oh my god, this woman, she has no life.” Her comment comes on the heels of allegations that the devices of Catalan political figures had been hacked using Pegasus, and the region's president Pere Aragonès has asked the European Commission to urge Spain to investigate whether Madrid could be behind the surveillance operation. Despite the lack of titillating data on her phone, Vestager did say she and her fellow officials take precautions to secure their devices against espionage, stating, "The Commission of course, our services, they do their best to protect every one of us.”
Greek journalist accuses EYP of hacking his phone.
A prosecutor in Greece is taking the threat of spyware a bit more seriously. A probe has been launched to investigate CNN Greece financial crimes journalist Thanasis Koukakis’s claims that his smartphone was infected by surveillance software allegedly operated by Greece’s National Intelligence Service (EYP). Koukakis told Reuters he first suspected his device was hacked in July 2020, and that he believes his phone was infected by European surveillance company Cytrox’s Predator spyware, which is sold in Greece by Intellexa. He enlisted the help of the spyware researchers at Toronto University's Citizen Lab, who confirmed the presence of Predator on his phone. Citizen Lab researcher Bill Marczak stated, “We identified the SMS on the phone used to target him…it is the first Greek case we have been able to confirm." The prosecutor stated that a preliminary probe has been initiated to determine whether there has been a violation of the country's telecommunications privacy legislation. Greek government spokesman Giannis Oikonomou stated that Greek authorities do not use Predator and do not conduct business with companies that sell it.
Ronan Farrow’s peek into the inner workings of NSO Group.
As we noted earlier this week, the New Yorker recently published journalist Ronan Farrow’s expose on Israeli spyware company NSO Group, developer of the controversial Pegasus surveillance software, and recent allegations that the spyware was used to hack the phones of political figures in the Catalonia region of Spain. NPR interviewed Farrow about his investigation, and why the surveillance of Catalan politicians is so groundbreaking. NSO claims it only sells its software to governments and law enforcement, and that that makes it less likely to be abused, but Farrow explains, “There's all sorts of evidence that this may be a Pegasus account operated by the Spanish government, by Spanish-government-affiliated entities, and it is in a Western democracy. This is the kind of company that actually NSO defends its right to sell to. And yet there has been a terrible human consequence even in that setting, with person after person affiliated with a political movement there hacked, in many cases both hacked and imprisoned by the government for supporting an independence movement.”
He goes on to describe his visit to NSO’s offices, which he says look “very much like a glossy US tech startup,” and alludes to a recent employee exodus in light of the avalanche of abuse allegations. Farrow says a former employee told him he didn’t want to be “part of a company whose technology is maybe being used to track and in some cases kill people who are opposition voices.” When asked about the lawsuits filed by Apple and WhatsApp in an attempt to stop the use of Pegasus on their tech, Farrow says NSO – and other companies like it in China, Russia, and even the US – are not likely to be slowed down. “The important thing is that this kind of technology is not going away, and that, you know, NSO may continue in one form or another, but its progeny, these firms founded in many cases by alumni of NSO or as a response to NSO, are trying to sort of fill the markets that NSO has failed to fill, trying to sell to U.S. law enforcement. These companies are going to go on and are going to thrive.”