Cybersecurity

Government-Sponsored Hacking of Activists Should Give Authorities Pause, Not Inspiration

How an oppressive Middle Eastern country led to everybody's iPhones getting a security update.

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iPhone
Mauro Grigollo/Westend61 GmbH/Newscom

The iPhone security breach that prompted the latest Apple software update is not about encryption, but it's still very important for Western government officials who want to meddle with tech security standards in service of their own national security agendas to pay attention.

Apple just released a new security update for iPhone and iPad users because of what recently happened to Ahmed Mansoor, a human rights advocate and promoter of a free press and democracy in the United Arab Emirates. Mansoor was sent a link in a text from an unknown source that said it would show him information about torture within UAE's prisons. This was lie, which he fortunately did not fall for. The link would have actually installed spyware within his phone that would have allowed hackers to snoop on Mansoor and even remotely activate the phone's camera.

Mansoor has been targeted before, and fortunately for him (and all Apple users), he knew who to turn to in order to investigate the malware. Citizen Lab figured out the nature and purpose of the malware, which has been traced back to a secretive Israeli-based firm. This makes things a bit, well, as the Associated Press diplomatically describes it, awkward:

The apparent discovery of Israeli-made spyware being used to target a dissident in the United Arab Emirates raises awkward questions for both countries. The use of Israeli technology to police its own citizens is an uncomfortable strategy for an Arab country with no formal diplomatic ties to the Jewish state. And Israeli complicity in a cyberattack on an Arab dissident would seem to run counter to the country's self-description as a bastion of democracy in the Middle East.

The Associated Press sent a journalist to the Israeli company's headquarters only to find they had recently moved. They have not been able to get authorities from either Israel or UAE to respond. They best they were able to get from the company, NSO Group, was a bland statement that its mission was to provide "authorized governments with technology that helps them combat terror and crime."

That's the kind of statement that should send off warning sirens and alarm bells in the minds of government officials here in the United States and Europe. That's the same kind of motivation lawmakers and investigators claim in calls for tech companies provide them ways to bypass encryption or security of their devices or programs.

At the same time that Mansoor was trying to fend off government-sponsored hacking targeting him because of his human rights advocacy, leaders within France and Germany are calling on the European Union to adopt a law that requires app makers to provide government officials the tools to bypass encryption for the purpose of … helping them combat terror and crime.

Fortunately European human rights and data protection experts are loudly pointing out what a terrible plan this is. There are politicians who still believe that somehow tech companies can create some sort of magical key that only the "right" people can use. This is clearly an absurd contention, but even if it were true, the United Arab Emirates, which has a terrible record of imprisoning its critics, apparently counts as the "right" people.

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35 responses to “Government-Sponsored Hacking of Activists Should Give Authorities Pause, Not Inspiration

  1. The next locked terrorist smartphone recovered after an incident and we’ll have this same discussion all over again.

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  2. http://nypost.com/2016/08/25/n…..y-hearing/

    Denton gets huffy and puffy that the media has access to his bankruptcy hearing where his finances are covered.

    Denton tightly crossed his arms and shook his head as Hulk Hogan’s attorney Kenneth Turkel grilled him about how he spent a $2 million home equity loan.

    “I got married, I had a rather expensive wedding,” Denton said, referring to the 300-guest affair at the American Museum of Natural History in 2014.

    Denton is married to an out-of-work actor named Derrence Washington, who is 17 years his junior.

    Denton said he also paid for a renovation to his $4.2 million Soho apartment and other “living expenses.”

  3. How an oppressive Middle Eastern country led to everybody’s iPhones getting a security update.

    Wait, are we talking about the Obama administration hacking the San Bernardino shooter’s phone?

  4. The West & Israel systematically undermine all attempts at reformation in the Muslim world. And then uses the resulting autocracy and chaos to justify bombing them. “If you don’t let us persecute the freedom bloggers we will lose control of the extremists gonna getcha!” Fool me once. #NeverAgain

    1. *carefully sets down roll of foil, sprays on sock/troll repellent and walks away*

      1. Obama will stop drone strikes by the end of his term. In part due to the realization that support for the policy was justified almost entirely in calling the critics ‘crazy’.

        1. Bullshit. Obama will “stop” drone strikes when his ability to authorize them ends. The notion that he would listen to anything that critics say calls into question the sanity of the voices in your head.

        2. Obama will stop drone strikes by the end of his term. In part due to the realization that support for the policy was justified almost entirely in calling the critics ‘crazy’.because he won’t have the authority to conduct drone strikes after his term ends.

          FTFY

        3. Obama will stop drone strikes by the end of his term. In part due to the realization that support for the policy was justified almost entirely in calling the critics ‘crazy’ on the 20th of January 2017 at noon.

  5. Spread like dumdum sauce on all the screens the fucking TV faces whine and chortle turd-infested decibels blood-soaked and hairy with goddamned bombastic ignorance whorled in the bleating arrogance of necropolized academia.

    Death laughers such as this Arab activist-giant-among-men stand against soul-ripping machines towering like space demons above the waddling sub-d kneelers while vast pools of those that ply with pen and camera the notes of civilization fall prey to the knives of their own giggles.

    1. 6/10.

      1. No love for “the knives of their own giggles”?!

      2. You gotta be kidding me. “the bleating arrogance of necropolized academia”? “while…those that ply with pen and camera the notes of civilization fall prey to the knives of their own giggles”? That’s stuff’s Nobel Lit. prize quality.

        Bonus point because I can actually almost understand what Agile’s getting at with this one.

      3. Did you deduct points for the lack of space jizz?

      4. The fuck? You getting an early start today, Flanders?

        1. He’s had too much dumdum sauce today.

          Never change AC. You’re an orchid growing in the cesspool of the Internet.

  6. They don’t give a shit that our personal devices can be hacked as long as they can hack them too. If you have nothing to hide.

    1. If you have nothing to hide.

      you would be amazed, or not, at how convenient some find that statement depending on the application. In an earlier life and location, it was used to justify random drug tests of students involved in extracurriculars, ironically the kids least likely to be in trouble since they had the least time. Those same people then got the vapors over the Dems’ recent stunt attacking due process. By the time “presumption of innocence” becomes a relic much like freedom of association is becoming, the frog will have been boiled.

      1. Oh I know, I’ve had a number of arguments with people about drug testing. It’s always well if you have nothing to hide. I’m like well you should have no problems with cameras in your house to make sure you don’t beat your wife and kids since that’s a lot worse than doing drugs. If ypu have nothing to hide that is

      2. Let’s not forget the costs, delays in employment even for those who are “clean”, and of course the effect of false positives in wrecking lives.

  7. And Israeli complicity in a cyberattack on an Arab dissident would seem to run counter to the country’s self-description as a bastion of democracy in the Middle East.

    LOL. Does anyone here believe that the US isn’t doing anything similar or worse?

    1. America is a bastard of democracy.

  8. United Arab Emirates… where have I heard that name before? Remember those planes hijacked by rag… er…sand… um… kamikaze Saracen berserkers back in the Bush Jr. Administration? Where did all of those terrists hail from?

    1. That was Saudi Arabia. Recent wikileaks show that certain members of the Saudi Arabian government financially and materially supported the 9/11 attacks, and certain US officials knew about it since the Bush administration. And we’re still allies. That has nothing to do with the United Arab Emirates tho.

  9. RE: Government-Sponsored Hacking of Activists Should Give Authorities Pause, Not Inspiration

    Government sponsored hacking is not to be condemned. Instead it should encouraged if our socialist slave masters are to keep tabs on all of us, what we are doing, and what we are saying. The little people in this country enjoy too much privacy and freedom as it is, and as we all know, they are always up to something to suppress The State’s intention to control everyone. One would be foolish to believe that our ruling class whores are not working in our best interests. One only has to look at our exemplary economy, our status in world affairs, our years of peace to recognize how well they have been working for our benefit and not theirs. Allowing our obvious betters not to spy on us would only make them perceive us as questioning their intentions and hurt their feelings. No one wants that. So let us all open our hearts, our banking information, our secrets to our love lives, etc if we are to be finally be found blameless by those who desperately want to control us and our every action. Otherwise the terrorists will win.

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  12. At the same time that Mansoor was trying to fend off government-sponsored hacking targeting him because of his human rights advocacy, leaders within France and Germany are calling on the European Union to adopt a law that requires app makers to provide government officials the tools to bypass encryption for the purpose of ? helping them combat terror and crime.

    Thus proving that govermin are govermin – it’s just a matter of degree.

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