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.
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.
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.
New York Times journalist Ben Hubbard was targeted with NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware via a June 2018 SMS message promising details about “Ben Hubbard and the story of the Saudi Royal Family.” The SMS contained a hyperlink to a website used by a Pegasus operator that we call KINGDOM. We have linked KINGDOM to Saudi Arabia. In 2018, KINGDOM also targeted Saudi dissidents including Omar Abdulaziz, Ghanem al-Masarir, and Yahya Assiri, as well as a staff member at Amnesty International.
This document provides a high-level introduction to deep packet inspection, Internet filtering, and targeted intrusion dual-use technologies with the aim of familizaring the reader with their key technical features, the surrounding international human rights law framework, and some of the leading research to date on their deployment.
In recent days, United Nations Special Rapporteurs have released two revelatory reports that demonstrate the dangerous effects of unchecked technology in the hands of autocrats: one relating to the proliferation and abuse of surveillance software and one that investigates the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Both reports highlight the danger of unaccountable and unregulated surveillance technology sold to countries with egregious human rights records.