Since 2016, the Citizen Lab has published numerous reports regarding the use of Pegasus spyware against human rights defenders, journalists, politicians, and other members of civil society. Despite these findings, NSO Group has failed to substantively engage or respond to the research presented by the Citizen Lab and other organizations.
Government operatives used NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware to hack 36 personal phones belonging to journalists, producers, anchors, and executives at Al Jazeera. The journalists were hacked by four Pegasus operators, including one operator MONARCHY that we attribute to Saudi Arabia, and one operator SNEAKY KESTREL that we attribute to the United Arab Emirates.
Circles is a surveillance firm that reportedly exploits weaknesses in the global mobile phone system to snoop on calls, texts, and the location of phones around the globe, and is affiliated with NSO Group, which develops the oft-abused Pegasus spyware. Using Internet scanning, we found a unique signature associated with the hostnames of Check Point firewalls used in Circles deployments, enabling us to identify Circles deployments in at least 25 countries.
COVID-KAYA, a platform used by frontline healthcare workers in the Philippines to collect and share COVID-19 cases with the Philippines Department of Health, contained vulnerabilities in both the web and Android apps that allows for unauthorized users to access private data about the app’s users, and potentially patient data.
This annotated bibliography compiles and summarizes relevant literature on “digital transnational repression” (i.e., where states seek to exert pressure—using digital tools—on citizens living abroad in order to constrain, limit, or eliminate political or social action that threatens regime stability or social and cultural norms within the country). While transnational repression itself is not a new phenomenon, there has been limited research on how such repression is enabled and expanded by digital tools.
The encroachments to OTF highlight why independent and transparent funding sources for research and development on Internet freedom are so important. Providing this type of support within a large government organisation can be difficult. OTF was an example of how to do that right. Losing that example will be a loss not only to the practitioners and researchers that have grown through the support of OTF but the wider community of marginalized people they support.
Over the course of our multi-year investigation, we found that Dark Basin likely conducted commercial espionage on behalf of their clients against opponents involved in high profile public events, criminal cases, financial transactions, news stories, and advocacy. This report highlights several clusters of targets. In future reports, we will provide more details about specific clusters of targets and Dark Basin’s activities.