John Scott-Railton

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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

Articles

Group5: Syria and the Iranian Connection

This report describes a malware operation against the Syrian Opposition. We name the operator Group5, and suspect they have not been previously-reported. Group5 used “just enough” technical sophistication, combined with social engineering, to target computers and mobile phones with malware.

Packrat: Seven Years of a South American Threat Actor

This report describes an extensive malware, phishing, and disinformation campaign active in several Latin American countries, including Ecuador, Argentina, Venezuela, and Brazil. The nature and geographic spread of the targets seems to point to a sponsor, or sponsors, with regional, political interests. The attackers, whom we have named Packrat, have shown a keen and systematic interest in the political opposition and the independent press in so-called ALBA countries (Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas), and their recently allied regimes.

Pay No Attention to the Server Behind the Proxy: Mapping FinFisher’s Continuing Proliferation

This post describes the results of Internet scanning we recently conducted to identify the users of FinFisher, a sophisticated and user-friendly spyware suite sold exclusively to governments. We devise a method for querying FinFisher’s “anonymizing proxies” to unmask the true location of the spyware’s master servers. Since the master servers are installed on the premises of FinFisher customers, tracing the servers allows us to identify which governments are likely using FinFisher. In some cases, we can trace the servers to specific entities inside a government by correlating our scan results with publicly available sources.

Are the Kids Alright?: Digital Risks to Minors from South Korea’s Smart Sheriff Application

This report describes the results of two independent security audits of Smart Sheriff, one by researchers who collaborated at the 2015 Citizen Lab Summer Institute (held at the Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto), and the other by the auditing firm Cure53. The combined audits identified twenty-six security vulnerabilities in recent versions of Smart Sheriff (versions 1.7.5 and under). These vulnerabilities could be leveraged by a malicious actor to take control of nearly all Smart Sheriff accounts and disrupt service operations.

تماس از لندن: فیشینگ رمز عبور دو مرحله‌ای از ایران

این گزارش به کمپین رو به رشد حملات فیشینگ علیه کاربران در گستره ایران و حداقل یک حمله به یک فعال غربی می‌پردازد. این حمله‌ها تلاش دارند تا امنیت مضاعفی که از طریق رمز عبور دو مرحله‌ای در گوگل فراهم شده است را دور بزنند و به شکل گسترده‌ای مبتنی بر تماس‌های تلفنی و تلاش برای ورود در زمان حقیقی از سوی مهاجم است. جالب اینجاست که این حمله‌ها عموما با یک تماس تلفنی از کشور انگلستان شروع می‌شده و هکرها به یکی از دو زبان فارسی و یا انگلیسی ارتباط برقرار می‌کرده‌اند.