The battle for the most powerful cyber weapon in the world

The example in Mexico reveals both the promise and the perils of working with NSOs. In 2017, researchers at Citizen Lab, a surveillance group based at the University of Toronto, reported that authorities in Mexico used Pegasus to hack the accounts of soda tax advocates, as part of a broader campaign aimed at human rights activists, political opposition movements and journalists. More disturbingly, it appears someone in the government used Pegasus to spy on lawyers working to untangle the massacre of 43 students in Iguala in 2014. Tomás Zerón de Lucio, director of the future Mexico The FBI equivalent, which is the lead author of the federal government’s version of the event, concludes that the students were killed by a local gang. But in 2016 he himself became the subject of an investigation, on suspicion that he covered up federal involvement in the events there. Now it appears he used Pegasus in that attempt – one of his official duties was to contract for the procurement of cyber weapons and other equipment. In March 2019, shortly after Andrés Manuel López Obrador replaced Peña Nieto after a landslide election, investigators charged Zerón with participating in torture, kidnapping, and tampering with relevant evidence. to the Iguala massacre. Zerón fled to Canada and then to Israelwhere he entered the country as a tourist, and where – despite the extradition request from Mexico, which is currently hunting him on additional charges of embezzlement – he remains in back to this day.

America’s Reluctance to share intelligence has created other opportunities for the NSO and for Israel. In August 2009, the new president of Panama, Ricardo Martinelli, began his presidential campaign on the promise of “eliminating political corruption”, trying to convince American diplomats in the country to provide provided him with surveillance equipment to monitor “security threats as well as political opponents,” according to a State Department cable released by WikiLeaks. The United States “will not engage in any attempt to expand its eavesdropping capabilities to domestic political purposes,” the deputy chief of the delegation replied.

Martinelli tried a different approach. In early 2010, Panama was one of only six countries at the United Nations General Assembly to support Israel against a resolution to keep the Goldstone Commission report on war crimes during the 2008-9 Israeli attack on Gaza in the program. international agenda. A week after the vote, Martinelli landed in Tel Aviv on one of his first trips outside of Latin America. He told Israel’s President, Shimon Peres, that Panama will always stand with Israel in appreciating its “guardianship over the capital of the world – Jerusalem”. He said he and his entourage of ministers, businessmen and Jewish community leaders had come to Israel to learn. “We have come a great distance, but we are so close because of the Jewish heart of Panama,” he said.

Behind closed doors, Martinelli uses his trip to do some surveillance shopping. During a private meeting with Netanyahu, the two discussed military and intelligence equipment that Martinelli wanted to buy from Israeli suppliers. According to one participant at the meeting, Martinelli was particularly interested in the possibility of breaking into BlackBerry’s BBM text service, which was popular in Panama at the time.

Within two years, Israel was able to supply him with one of the most sophisticated tools ever built. Following the installation of the NSO system in Panama City in 2012, Martinelli’s government repeatedly voted in favor of Israel, including against the United Nations decision to upgrade the status of the Palestinian delegation – 138 The country that voted in favor of this resolution, only Israel. , Panama and seven other countries oppose it.

According to a later legal affidavit from Ismael Pitti, an analyst with Panama’s National Security Council, the device was used in a widespread campaign to “invade the privacy of Panamanians and non-Panama” — political opponents, judges, union leaders, business competitors — all “without due process.” Prosecutors then said Martinelli even ordered the Pegasus operation team to hack the mistress’s phone. It all ended in 2014, when Martinelli was replaced by vice president Juan Carlos Varela, who identified himself as a target of Martinelli’s spying. Martinelli’s subordinates dismantled the espionage system, and the former president fled the country. (In November, he was acquitted by a Panamanian court of wiretapping.)

NSO has doubled its revenue every year – $15 million, $30 million, $60 million. That growth has caught the attention of investors. In 2014, Francisco Partners, a global investment firm based in the United States, paid $130 million for a 70% stake in NSO, then merged another Israeli cyberweapons company, named is Circles, on their new acquisition. Founded by a former senior AMAN officer, Circles gave customers access to a vulnerability that allowed them to detect the location of any cell phone in the world – a vulnerability that was discovered by intelligence. Israel discovered 10 years earlier. The combined company can provide more services to more customers than ever before. The battle for the most powerful cyber weapon in the world

Fry Electronics Team

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