Feb 9, 2022

Whistleblower Alleges NSO Offered To ‘Drop Off Bags Of Cash’ In Exchange To Access To US Cellular Networks

Posted by in categories: business, cybercrime/malcode, government, mobile phones

The endless parade of bad news for Israeli malware merchant NSO Group continues. While it appears someone might be willing to bail out the beleaguered company, it still has to do business as the poster boy for the furtherance of human rights violations around the world. That the Israeli government may have played a significant part in NSO’s sales to known human rights violators may ultimately be mitigating, but for now, NSO is stuck playing defense with each passing news cycle.

Late last month, the New York Times revealed some very interesting things about NSO Group. First, it revealed the company was able to undo its built-in ban on searching US phone numbers… provided it was asked to by a US government agency. The FBI took NSO’s powerful Pegasus malware for a spin in 2019, but under an assumed name: Phantom. With the permission of NSO and the Israeli government, the malware was able to target US numbers, albeit ones linked to dummy phones purchased by the FBI.

The report noted the FBI liked what it saw, but found the zero-click exploit provided by NSO’s bespoke “Phantom” (Pegasus, but able to target US numbers) might pose constitutional problems the agency couldn’t surmount. So, it walked away from NSO. But not before running some attack attempts through US servers — something that was inadvertently exposed by Facebook and WhatsApp in their lawsuit against NSO over the targeting of WhatsApp users. An exhibit declared NSO was using US servers to deliver malware, something that suggested NSO didn’t care about its self-imposed restrictions on US targeting. In reality, it was the FBI and NSO running some tests on local applications of zero-click malware that happened to be caught by Facebook techies.

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