NSO Group of the infamous Israeli supervisory company Pegasus The software appears to have been used once again in an authoritarian spy campaign despite recent reports of how the company itself bleeding cash due to growing debt and growing international supervision. This time, Pegasus was allegedly used to infect the devices of 35 journalists and members of civil society in El Salvador, according to a new investigation conducted by The Citizen Lab and Access Now.
The hacking operations, which took place between July 2020 and November 2021, appear to have targeted journalists working in at least six publications, some of which have conducted investigations into allegations of state corruption. Twelve journalists in one publication, El Farro, reportedly received “state-sponsored spyware” alarm from Apple alerts to attempted spying.
As a refresh, once the target has been successfully infected, Pegasus software allows the end user to monitor photos, target documents, and even encrypted messages without even knowing the target. Over his In its 11-year history, NSO group spy software has been used many times to target journalists, human rights advocates, children, and even some political leaders. The company has shown a willingness to sell its services to authoritarian regimes, and previous reports highlight the use of Pegasus by actors in Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Mexico, i Hungary, among others.
The NSO Group did not immediately respond to Gizmod’s request for comment, but said Reuters has a “zero tolerance” policy for misusing its products. Moreover, spying on journalists is considered an abuse of the company. Whether it actually is or not resources everything in practice is something completely different. While the NSO is officially advertised as a tool to fight crime used by the police in the fight against terrorism, in the past it has been known that its clients are abusing technology.
Operation El Salvador was particularly notable for its scale and aggression. According to Access Now, the surveillance campaign, which lasted nearly a year and a half, represents one of the “most persistent and intense” known uses of Pegasus to target journalists.
“I’ve seen a lot of Pegasus cases, but what was particularly disturbing, in this case, it was his comparison to physical threats and violent language against the media in El Salvador, ”Scott-Railton, a Citizen Lab researcher, told the AP. “This is something that might not surprise you in a dictatorship, but at least on paper El Salvador is democracy.”
Although the Citizen Lab report states that it cannot draw a direct link between the infected devices and the Salvadoran government, the evidence seems to be leaning in that direction. According to the Citizen Lab, most of the attacks took place at about the same time as the targets were working on projects that would be of interest to the regime of President Nayib Bukele.
IN statement given to the Associated Press, a Bukele spokesman denied the connection, saying: “El Salvador is in no way affiliated with Pegasus, nor is it a client of the NSO Group.” The official said the government was investigating hacking attempts and even claimed that she herself had received a warning from Apple informing her that she may have been the target of state-sponsored hacking attempts. (Scott-Railton pushed against the government’s response on Twitter).
News of the surveillance operation comes as Bukele, whom some have called “Millennial dictator“, Is taking active steps to create an image of itself for foreign observers as a crypto king of Latin America who is technology-friendly.
Last year Bukele was famous pushed a controversial new law making bitcoin an officially legal tender and requiring its use for payments by businesses. The leader even talked about building literals bitcoin grad it is powered by geothermal energy from the base of the volcano. The mostly tax-free zone would reportedly contain a central square that would look like a symbol of bitcoin from above and could serve as a hub for energy-intensive cryptocurrency mining.
International regulators have expressed concerns over the bitcoin embrace of El Salvador, warning that it could make the country a breeding ground for money laundering and other financial crimes. Credit rating agency Fitch also expressed concern last year that the new law could essentially direct Bitcoin traffic through El Salvador, which could “increase the risks of proceeds from illegal activities passing through El Salvador’s financial system,” Fitch said. said Reuters.
Both Citizen Lab and Access have now issued statements calling on international organizations to step up efforts to combat surveillance operations.
“The world is witnessing an unprecedented explosion in government-approved surveillance, with the support of private companies such as the NSO Group,” Access Now wrote in statement. “The lack of accountability for such unprecedented behavior by public bodies and private companies allows a culture of oversight to flourish and human rights to be destroyed.”