A $1 billion Israeli intelligence startup accused of helping Saudi Arabia track its adversaries could be the key to new assertions from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ security consultant Gavin de Becker.
In an op-ed published in The Daily Beast on Saturday, de Becker said his team concluded that Saudi Arabia “had access to Bezos’ phone and gained private information,” following its investigation into how Bezos’ texts with girlfriend Lauren Sanchez ended up in the hands of The National Enquirer.
A foreign government surveilling a powerful American CEO using advanced technologies? It sounds like the stuff of a spy novel.
But as it turns out, tracking people’s cell phones is a well-established practice, and the technology behind it — known as “lawful intercept spyware” — is a $12 billion industry.
While De Becker stopped short of asserting how Saudi Arabia accessed Bezos’ phone, his op-ed linked out to a New York Times article on “internet mercenaries” including NSO Group, DarkMatter, and Black Cube — companies which use technological prowess to put advanced spying techniques in the hands of governments around the globe.
The most established is NSO Group, $1 billion Israeli startup that’s open about its mission to help “government agencies prevent and investigate terrorism and crime to save thousands of lives around the globe.’
NSO Group was founded in 2008 by Shalev Hulio and Omri Lavie to help cell phone providers gain access to their customer’s phones to perform maintenance.
Since then, the company has helped Saudi Arabia “track its adversaries,” helped Mexico “hunt drug kingpins,” and made millions of dollars doing similar work for dozens of different governments, according to an investigation by the Times.
NSO Group’s main technology Pegasus came out in 2011. Pegasus lets its users collect remote data from smartphone apps like Facebook, WhatsApp and Skype, as well as texts, emails, calls and location data, from “the air without leaving a trace,” according to the Times.
While helping Mexico catch drug criminals is within NSO Group’s stated mission, the company is at the center of a lawsuit which alleges its technology was used by Saudi Arabia to spy on journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.
NSO Group has also worked with the United Arab Emirates, which was caught installing NSO’s software on the cell phone of human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor, according to the Times.
NSO Group isn’t the only player in the international spy space.
The Times uncovered steep competition between NSO Group and the Emirati firm DarkMatter, which reportedly formed after an American firm CyberPoint declined the UAE’s requests to break American law by cracking encryption codes and hacking websites housed on American servers.
DarkMatter’s stated mission is to create a world “where businesses and governments harness and maximise the benefits of the digital environment effectively and safely.”
But its techniques go beyond just tracking people’s cell phones. The firm reportedly hacked a baby monitor in the home of Mansoor in order to listen in on his conversations.
Disney’s “Dumbo” is having a bumpy takeoff. It’s uncommon for a Disney IP to not hit its industry box office projections or surpass it, but that’s what’s happened to the latest live-action remake of the Disney classic animated movie. Tim Burton’s look at lovable Jumbo Jr. (budgeted at $170 million, not counting marketing) took in...
Although it was beaten to the punch by the Samsung Fold (and the Royole FlexPai if you’re feeling charitable), Huawei threw down a major gauntlet earlier this when it unveiled its Mate X foldable handset, delivering what is arguably the most appealing folding smartphone design to date. Now, it appears the company is going all-in...