A DETAILED investigation carried out by Forbidden Stories, a Paris-based non-profit media organisation, the human rights group Amnesty International and world media organisations has lifted the lid on the unprecedented scale of hacking software produced by the Israeli surveillance company NSO Group.
The hacking software, called Pegasus, has been sold by the company to governments around the world to hack and control iPhones and Android devices.
It enables government hackers to take remote control of these devices enabling all messages, photos and emails to be read. It can record all calls made and turn the device into a recording microphone without the owner being aware and even turn on the camera to record the owner’s activities.
By accessing the device’s GPS tracking system, NSO client governments can also log a person’s movements and track their location in real time with pinpoint accuracy.
The number of phones infected with the Pegasus malware is staggering, with over 50,000 phone numbers on the list leaked to Forbidden Stories last year.
The NSO Group insists that the Israeli Ministry of Defence closely regulates the company, and export licences are only granted to vetted government bodies.
NSO also insists that it sells only to military, law enforcement and intelligence agencies in 40 unnamed countries, and that it ‘rigorously vets’ its customers’ human rights records before allowing them to use this spying technology – and then only for criminal and national security investigations.
However, the analysis carried out shows that a whole range of people with no connection to criminality are on the list.
The Guardian newspaper, which broke the story in Britain on Sunday, said that among the people who appear to have been the targets are ‘hundreds of business executives, religious figures, academics, NGO employees, union officials and government officials, including cabinet ministers, presidents and prime ministers’, adding that it also includes ‘close family members of one country’s ruler, suggesting the ruler may have instructed their intelligence agencies to explore the possibility of monitoring their own relatives.’
The NSO Group was particularly concerned to deny any involvement that implicated its spyware over the murder of the Saudi Arabian dissident and journalist Kamal Khashoggi in 2018.
Khashoggi was killed and his body dismembered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul where he had been lured on the pretext of needing to receive official papers for his upcoming wedding.
It now appears that the phone of Khashoggi’s fiancée had been hacked by Pegasus just four days before his murder. The phones of his son and other family members, friends and co-workers were also found on the leaked list of phone numbers.
In 2019, Amnesty supported legal action to take the Israeli Ministry of Defence to court to demand that it revoke the export licence of NSO Group on the grounds that it ‘sells its products to governments who are known for outrageous human rights abuses, giving them the tools to track activists and critics.’
Unsurprisingly, the Israeli court threw out Amnesty’s legal action – a move condemned by the organisation in a statement saying: ‘NSO Group continues to profit from human rights abuses with impunity.’
But the issue is not just one of a company prepared to profit from targeting dissidents, journalists, lawyers and trade unionists, but that government agencies and governments, including the US and UK, are falling over themselves to acquire this technology.
The technological advances in communications and social media are being turned into weapons to be used against anyone who opposes capitalist exploitation and the brutal oppressive regimes that capitalism has fostered and supported.
In Britain, the use of undercover spycops has demonstrated the lengths the state will go to protect the ruling capitalist class from workers and young people and the latest revelations have, once again, underlined the fact that the state under capitalism exists solely for the purpose of repressing workers and stifling any opposition to its rule.
There is only one way to defeat the spies of the capitalist state and that is to smash the capitalist state itself with a socialist revolution and replacing it with a workers’ state and socialism.