Anyone remotely concerned with digital privacy likely recognizes and understand the threat to virtual freedom imposed by Israeli surveillance company NSO Group. The NSO Group continuously find themselves in hot water with every new hacking tool they release, and every largely publicized use of their software for dark bidding. It’s worth noting that most people using NSO Group’s tools aren’t up to any good.
Who is NSO Group?
NSO Group, colloquially known as “Nuh Uh, It Wasn’t Us, We Swear, We Totally Have No Idea How People Use Our Software to Hack People” is a tech company based out of Israel that bills itself as an above-board agency on a mission to help law enforcement track and locate criminals who use technology to commit or conspire to commit crimes. Whenever their software is used for a nefarious purpose, like the time the Saudi Crown Prince used NSO’s Pegasus to hack Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’s phone, NSO Group immediately rejects accountability.
NSO Group’s main mission is to create highly effective stealth spyware that infects devices, gains complete control, and reports all obtained information back to the party responsible for the installation of the spyware. The group constantly fortifies its products to be sneaker and more effective, bypassing most of the latest security standards.
What Do They Have?
NSO Group has been attempting to enter the US market for years. Westbridge Technologies, NGO’s US based branch, created a brochure for their latest spy package they’ve put together. The product, titled Phantom, is a one-click attack system that loads almost every modern phone with spyware. The remote hack is engaged by sending a target a seemingly innocuous link that they’ll open. Once they do, Phantom installs on their device unbeknownst to them.
Once the device is infected with Phantom, the remote hacker has access to nearly everything that smartphone does. It can access contacts, photos, the camera, text messages, the microphone, app data, and location tracking services. The target is thoroughly owned and completely unaware.
According to Westbridge, Phantom is capable of bypassing SSL and encryption, removing safeguards put into place by phone operating system developers who are attempting to keep their customers safe. This hot button issue has been raised time and time again when law enforcement has begged Apple to release a hack that will allow them to access locked iPhones. Technology companies refuse to comply, and NSO’s Westbridge has found a way to circumvent them.
How Were They Trying to Sell It?
NSO Group had the audacity to prepare an informative brochure detailing how Phantom works, on which devices it is compatible, and the benefits of spying on people. This brochure was sent to the San Diego Police Department via email and marketed like a consumer product. Troublingly, the recipient called the product “awesome”.
While a spokesperson for the San Diego Police Department admits that members of their office were in contact with pitchers at Westbridge, they claim they were only interested in the as a supplement to allowances made within a legally obtained warrant. There is no purchase record to suggest that SDPD bought any technology or licenses from Westbridge.
NSO Groups Products are Frequently Abused
NSO Group claims that their products are only designed to be used in above board ways that comply with each and every government’s requirements for privacy. They are seldom used in accordance with these policies. Even NSO’s employees have a tendency to abuse their technology, including but not limited to using spyware to stalk their love interests.
It can easily be argued that there is no ethical way to utilize any of NSO group’s software. Its entire purpose is surveillance, it exceeds most safeguards, and it can easily be used to stealthily spy on just about everyone.
Keeping Yourself Safe from NSO Group
Absolutely never open any links or attachments from anyone who cannot be 100% verified as a known and trusted sender. Scan every attachment you receive. NSO Group’s technology is terrifying, and as long as they continue to procure lucrative contracts from foreign governments, they’ll continue to amass enough wealth to be a threat.