How Intrusive Israeli Spyware Is Jeopardizing the Lives of Human Rights Activists

March 3, 2023 IOS Vulnerability, spyware

The NSO Group used Israeli private spyware to target and target cellphones of human rights activities and journalists around the world. Data has revealed that Israeli spyware can infect smartphones without any user interaction (no “clicks”). Human rights advocates throughout the world have condemned the intrusive Israeli spyware that continues to endanger and jeopardize human lives. 

Source of the Spyware 

One extensive investigation reveals that the NSO Group, an Israeli IT contractor, is responsible for creating the invasive spyware known as Pegasus. This spyware program bypasses security parameters through a smartphone’s apps or operating system. Ultimately, spyware tracks personal and sensitive information.  

The Washington Post also reports that malicious Israeli spyware has been able to hack into cellphones of reputable public officials, human rights activists, and journalists without their consent. It would be fair to state that this intrusive nature of surveillance will have drastic consequences for free speech, data privacy, and human rights. 

In the Name of Cybersecurity Intelligence 

The stance of the NSO Group, however, is that it operates as a cybersecurity intelligence firm and supports government initiatives to prevent online crime and terrorism. But since the release of the investigation, the targeted individuals want the tech company to realize and recognize the issue. In fact, Human Rights Watch notes that the NSO Group has had affiliations with regressive regimes and public actors that undermine basic human rights.  

Forensic Analysis of Spyware 

The forensic analysis from Amnesty International paints a clear picture of the severity and implications of Israeli spyware. Amnesty International’s Security Lab finds that Israeli spyware compares stored data within smartphones through mistrustful URL links. It allows spyware to track cellphone activities when the user clicks on the URL. In some cases, however, there are hidden URLs so even visiting a previously compromised website would be considered sufficient to infect users (an attack known a “watering hole”). 

IOS Vulnerability and Past Accusations on the NSO Group 

Forbes highlights that Israeli spyware took advantage of iOS vulnerability and created a faux disguise of a system upgrade to invade a specific user’s mobile phone. At this point, the user is completely unaware of any spyware presence on his or her phone. Some time back, another investigation from WhatsApp also had accused the NSO Group in connection with illegal government surveillance and spyware.  

In fact, this research suggests that NSO has been the center point for many cybersecurity issues around the world. Digital human rights activists have raised the concern to make the Israeli tech firm accountable and roll out efforts to mitigate the impact of dangerous spyware. And that’s because Pegasus invasion into a personal smartphone is highly dangerous for human rights activists. 

Complete Breach of Privacy 

The Guardian reports that after the infiltration of the cellphone, hackers can access anything on the device. For instance, hackers can see sent and received messages, record screens, turn on the microphone, camera, and check GPS history and find the exact location of the user through GPS. These cyberattacks have the backing of oppressive regimes that want to curtail political opposition and free speech.  

Final Thoughts 

As of now, Pegasus has managed to compromise more than 50,000 cellphone devices. Data suggests that human rights activities from countries like India, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, and Azerbaijan were main targets and are now at high risk. To save the backers of human rights and ensure digital safety, global rights watch calls for more accountability from tech companies. In retrospect, Humans Rights Watch wants to make sure that regressive governments don’t silence dissidents by criminalizing online association and expression.