Saudis used software provided by Israelites against Khashoggi
NSO Group Technologies is an Israeli technology company dedicated to the creation of intrusion and surveillance software founded in 2010 by Niv Carmi, Omri Lavie and Shalev Hulio. NSO appears on the scene in the investigation about what decided the Saudis to assassinate Jamal Khashoggi. Everything indicates that a software provided by NSO to Riyadh allowed the subordinates of Prince Mohamed bin Salman to get messages exchanged by the journalist with an activist in Canada planning an offensive on social networks against the Crown Prince.
NSO Group specializes in surveillance software that only sells to governments, among them the Spyware Pegasus, sadly famous since 2016, since the non-governmental organizations Citizen Lab and Lookout denounced the existence of a zero-day vulnerability exploited by the malware Pegasus and whose objective was the human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor.
In 2018, the United Arab Emirates sentenced Mansoor, an activist on Facebook and Twitter, to 10 years in prison. Also to the payment of 1 million Emirati dirhams (around US $ 270,000) of fine for comments posted on social networks.
“Ahmed Mansoor is one of the few openly critical voices of the UAE, and his persecution is a blow more struck in the country to activism in favor of human rights,” said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International‘s director of research for the Middle East.
Pegasus in Mexico
In February 2017, the NSO software again appeared on the scene: The New York Times published the result of the Citizen Lab investigation that showed that against promoters of a tax on soft drinks in Mexico, they received text messages that family members had died (false), and caused the download of Pegasus malware, for the contamination of their computers and phones.
In July 2017, it became known that the Pegasus malware was used in Mexico to spy on the members of the GIEI (Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts, a committee of jurists and doctors who were trying a parallel investigation on the 43 students who had been disappeared in the Iguala community). The IGIE had been sent by the IACHR (Inter-American Commission on Human Rights). Only now the new president Andrés Manuel López Obrador ordered an official investigation into those events.
Saudis get Pegasus
NSO returns to the scene but for an even more serious issue: to have contributed to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.
NSO exposes the Israeli connection in the tragedy since NSO does not sell software to governments that do not enjoy the approval of Tel Aviv. That is to say, Saudis has the NSO software because Riyadh is an ally of the Israeli government. But it is very different to be a political and / or economic ally than an ally for the repression of dissent and, eventually, its assassination.
A recent investigation by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz has revealed that Saudi Arabia paid US $ 55 million to acquire the Pegasus malware. NSO operates under license from the Ministry of Defense of Israel and relies on the authorization of its Government to sell its products to official agencies in other countries.
“We do not tolerate the illegal use of our products,” the Israeli firm said in a statement, “if there are suspicions, we investigate them and adopt the appropriate measures.” Now, a Saudi activist exiled in Canada, Omar Abdulaziz, sued a NSO tribunal in Tel Aviv.
NSO and Saudis
According to the Haaretz newspaper, Abdulaziz, friend and confidant of the murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi, has denounced through a Jerusalem lawyer that NSO provided the Pegasus malware to the Saudis, who used it to intercept more than 400 messages via WhatsApp that he exchanged with Khashoggi from October 2017 to August 2018, 2 months before the murder of The Washington Post columnist at the consulate of his country in Istanbul.
The Saudis were obsessed with the possibility of creating an adverse digital movement called The Bees. The University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab reported that an innocent online follow-up message for the shipment of a package had been issued by the Saudi intelligence services, according to the text of the lawsuit filed by Jerusalem lawyer Alaa Mahajna, from the NGO Adalah, the legal assistance center for the Arab minority in Israel.
Experts from the University of Toronto detected that Abdulaziz’s phone had been hacked with the “military-level” spy program created by NSO and followed a digital trail that led them to the Saudi Government.
The exchange of messages shows that Abdulaziz and Khashoggi were very critical of the policy of Mohamed bin Salman. Then, they planned to create a digital movement – “The Bees” – among the Saudis to counter the official propaganda of the Saudi Kingdom.
The profile on Twitter of Khashoggi, which came to have more than 340,000 followers, would be the axis of the promotion to join “The Bees”. Some of these messages on WhatsApp have been played on the CNN channel website, which has interviewed Abdulaziz. This is a dialog example:
Abdulaziz: I have sent you a brief idea about the work that the digital army would do.
Khashoghi: Excellent document. I will try to raise the money. We have to do something. Sometimes I have been [cyber] attacked by them [the Israelis]. I hate tweeting.
Weeks later Abdulaziz learned that his messages had been intercepted by Saudi spying and informed Khashoggi: “Once they heard about The Bees, they were really worried and disturbed, they arrested many people and assaulted many places. I am glad that you are abroad and safe.
Khashoghi: How did they know about “The Bees”?
Abdulaziz: I started creating groups, to work and I’m sure I left some fringe. Tens of thousands of people have had to be involved in this. Imagine that my brother told me: “Omar, do not tweet anything about Canada, or about the group, otherwise I’ll go to prison.”
Khashoghi: May God protect you, you are in Canada, which is the sanctuary for the aggrieved people. May God protect you from any stupidity of Gadafis or Gaddafi (Gaddafi as an adjective). Do not discuss the subject of “The Bees” on Instagram. ”
“[Bin Salman] is like a Pac-Man beast, the more victims he eats, the more he wants, I will not be surprised if the oppression reaches even those who cheer him,” he added.
“Is there any chance that when he is crowned he shows clemency?”, asked young Abulaziz.
“This is what logic says,” Khashoggi mused, “but I no longer have faith in it to analyze this man’s mind.”
Amnesty International considers that Israel’s approval of the activities of the controversial cybersecurity company is equivalent to “cooperating with human rights abuses.”
The software infects smartphones by means of a virus that accesses all the information by remote control. Listening to calls, reading messages, tracking the history on the Internet; everything is feasible, even operating through the camera and the microphone of the terminal. The attacker has access to everything, it does not matter if you use WhatsApp or Telegram.
“We do not have Parliament, we only have Twitter,” Abdulaziz lamented in one of the messages sent to Khashoggi published by CNN. “That is the tool that [the regime] uses to spread false rumors. We have been attacked and threatened many times and we have to respond. “
You can also read > Woman in US admits using Bitcoin to launder money for ISIS