Ethiopian’s penchant for commercial spyware is notorious, as is its pattern of digital espionage against journalists, activists, and other entities—many of which are based overseas—that seek to promote government accountability and are therefore viewed as political threats. Yet the Ethiopian government and others like it have faced little pressure to cease this particular strain of digital targeting.
John Scott-Railton is a Senior Researcher at The Citizen Lab. His work focuses on technological threats civil society, including targeted malware operations, cyber militias, and online disinformation. His greatest hits include a collaboration with colleague Bill Marczak that uncovered the the systematic use of Pegasus spyware to target civil society in several countries, including Mexico and the UAE. Pegasus is developed by the Israeli cyber-warfare company NSO Group and sold exclusively to governments. That investigation also uncovered the first iPhone zero-day and remote jailbreak seen in the wild. Other investigations with Citizen Lab colleagues include the first report of ISIS-led malware operations, China's "Great Cannon," the Government of China's nation-scale DDoS attack, and the 'tainted leaks' disinformation campaigns strongly linked to the Russian Government. These investigations, and others, have served as the basis for criminal investigations and lawsuits. John has also investigated the manipulation of news aggregators such as Google News, and privacy and security issues with fitness trackers. Recently, John was a fellow at Google Ideas and Jigsaw at Alphabet. John has undergraduate degrees from the University of Chicago and a Masters from the University of Michigan. He is completing a PhD at UCLA. Previously he founded The Voices Projects, collaborative information feeds that bypassed internet shutdowns in Libya and Egypt. John's work has been covered by Time Magazine, BBC, CNN, The Washington Post, and the New York Times. He can be reached at jsr [at] citizenlab.ca
This report describes how Ethiopian dissidents in the US, UK, and other countries were targeted with emails containing sophisticated commercial spyware posing as Adobe Flash updates and PDF plugins. Targets include a US-based Ethiopian diaspora media outlet, a PhD student, a lawyer, and even a Citizen Lab researcher.
Claudio X. González, the director of Mexicanos Contra la Corrupción y la Impunidad (MCCI: Mexicans Against Impunity and Corruption), becomes the 22nd known individual abusively targeted with NSO’s spyware technology in Mexico.
Lawyers representing the families of three slain Mexican women were sent infection attempts with NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware after questioning official accounts of the killings.
The international investigation into the 2014 Iguala Mass Disappearance was targeted with infection attempts using spyware developed by the NSO group.
NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware and exploit framework were used in infection attempts against Mexican senators and senior politicians in June and July 2016.
Uncovering an operation using NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware and Trident exploit framework to target Mexican journalists, lawyers, and even a minor child.
Documents stolen from a prominent journalist and critic of the Russian government were manipulated and then released as a “leak” to discredit domestic and foreign critics of the government. We call this technique “tainted leaks.”
This report describes an espionage operation using government-exclusive spyware to target Mexican government food scientists and two public health advocates.
This report discusses the targeting of Egyptian NGOs by Nile Phish, a large-scale phishing campaign. Almost all of the targets we identified are also implicated in Case 173, a sprawling legal case brought by the Egyptian government against NGOs, which has been referred to as an “unprecedented crackdown” on Egypt’s civil society. Nile Phish operators demonstrate an intimate knowledge of Egyptian NGOs, and are able to roll out phishing attacks within hours of government actions, such as arrests.