Connect with us

Uncategorized

Dozens of journalists’ iPhones hacked with NSO ‘zero-click’ spyware, says Citizen Lab

Published

on

Citizen Lab researchers say they have found evidence that dozens of journalists had their iPhones silently compromised with spyware known to be used by nation states.

For more than the past year, London-based reporter Rania Dridi and at least 36 journalists, producers and executives working for the Al Jazeera news agency were targeted with a so-called “zero-click” attack that exploited a now-fixed vulnerability in Apple’s iMessage. The attack invisibly compromised the devices without having to trick the victims into opening a malicious link.

Citizen Lab, the internet watchdog at the University of Toronto, was asked to investigate earlier this year after one of the victims, Al Jazeera investigative journalist Tamer Almisshal, suspected that his phone may have been hacked.

In a technical report out Sunday and shared with TechCrunch, the researchers say they believe the journalists’ iPhones were infected with the Pegasus spyware, developed by Israel-based NSO Group.

The researchers analyzed Almisshal’s iPhone and found it had between July and August connected to servers known to be used by NSO for delivering the Pegasus spyware. The device revealed a burst of network activity that suggests that the spyware may have been delivered silently over iMessage.

Logs from the phone show that the spyware was likely able to secretly record the microphone and phone calls, take photos using the phone’s camera, access the victim’s passwords, and track the phone’s location.

Citizen Lab analyzed the network logs of two hacked iPhones and found it could record ambient calls, take photos using the camera, and track the device’s location without the victim knowing. (Image: Citizen Lab)

Citizen Lab said the bulk of the hacks were likely carried out by at least four NSO customers, including the governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, citing evidence it found in similar attacks involving Pegasus.

The researchers found evidence that two other NSO customers hacked into one and three Al Jazeera phones respectively, but that they could not attribute the attacks to a specific government.

A spokesperson for Al Jazeera, which just broadcast its reporting of the hacks, did not immediately comment.

NSO sells governments and nation states access to its Pegasus spyware as a prepackaged service by providing the infrastructure and the exploits needed to launch the spyware against the customer’s targets. But the spyware maker has repeatedly distanced itself from what its customers do and has said it does not who its customers target. Some of NSO’s known customers include authoritarian regimes like China and Russia. Saudi Arabia allegedly used the surveillance technology to spy on the communications of columnist Jamal Khashoggi shortly before his murder, which U.S. intelligence concluded was likely ordered by the kingdom’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Citizen Lab said it also found evidence that Dridi, a journalist at Arabic television station Al Araby in London, had fallen victim to a zero-click attack. The researchers said Dridi was likely targeted by the UAE government.

In a phone call, Dridi told TechCrunch that her phone may have been targeted because of her close association to a person of interest to the UAE.

Dridi’s phone, an iPhone XS Max, was targeted for a longer period, likely between October 2019 and July 2020. The researchers found evidence that she was targeted on two separate occasions with a zero-day attack — the name of an exploit that has not been previously disclosed and that a patch is not yet available — because her phone was running the latest version of iOS both times.

“My life is not normal anymore. I don’t feel like I have a private life again,” said Dridi. “To be a journalist is not a crime,” she said.

Citizen Lab said its latest findings reveal an “accelerating trend of espionage” against journalists and news organizations, and that the growing use of zero-click exploits makes it increasingly difficult — though evidently not impossible — to detect because of the more sophisticated techniques used to infect victims’ devices while covering their tracks.

When reached on Saturday, NSO said it was unable to comment on the allegations as it had not seen the report, but declined to say when asked if Saudi Arabia or the UAE were customers or describe what processes — if any — it puts in place to prevent customers from targeting journalists.

“This is the first we are hearing of these assertions. As we have repeatedly stated, we do not have access to any information related to the identities of individuals upon whom our system is alleged to have been used to conduct surveillance. However, when we receive credible evidence of misuse, combined with the basic identifiers of the alleged targets and timeframes, we take all necessary steps in accordance with our product misuse investigation procedure to review the allegations,” said a spokesperson.

“We are unable to comment on a report we have not yet seen. We do know that CitizenLab regularly publishes reports based on inaccurate assumptions and without a full command of the facts, and this report will likely follow that theme NSO provides products that enable governmental law enforcement agencies to tackle serious organized crime and counterterrorism only, but as stated in the past, we do not operate them. Nevertheless, we are committed to ensuring our policies are adhered to, and any evidence of a breach will be taken seriously and investigated.”

Citizen Lab said it stood by its findings.

Read more on TechCrunch

Spokespeople for the Saudi and UAE governments in New York did not respond to an email requesting comment.

The attacks not only puts a renewed focus on the shadowy world of surveillance spyware, but also the companies having to defend against it. Apple rests much of its public image on advocating privacy for its users and building secure devices, like iPhones, designed to be hardened against the bulk of attacks. But no technology is impervious to security bugs. In 2016, Reuters reported that UAE-based cybersecurity firm DarkMatter bought a zero-click exploit to target iMessage, which they referred to as “Karma.” The exploit worked even if the user did not actively use the messaging app.

Apple told TechCrunch that it had not independently verified Citizen Lab’s findings but that the vulnerabilities used to target the reporters were fixed in iOS 14, released in September.

“At Apple, our teams work tirelessly to strengthen the security of our users’ data and devices. iOS 14 is a major leap forward in security and delivered new protections against these kinds of attacks. The attack described in the research was highly targeted by nation-states against specific individuals. We always urge customers to download the latest version of the software to protect themselves and their data,” said an Apple spokesperson.

NSO is currently embroiled in a legal battle with Facebook, which last year blamed the Israeli spyware maker for using a similar, previously undisclosed zero-click exploit in WhatsApp to infect some 1,400 devices with the Pegasus spyware.

Facebook discovered and patched the vulnerability, stopping the attack in its tracks, but said that more than 100 human rights defenders, journalists and “other members of civil society” had fallen victim.

Continue Reading
Comments

Uncategorized

Apple’s new editorial franchise, Apple Podcasts Spotlight, to highlight interesting creators

Published

on

Apple today announced a new editorial franchise called Apple Podcasts Spotlight, which aims to highlight rising podcast creators in the U.S. The editorial team at Apple will select new podcast creators to feature every month and then give them prominent screen real estate in the Apple Podcasts app and promote them across social media and elsewhere. This will allow creators to reach a wider audience, similar to how the App Store showcases a selection of recommended apps and games with large banners at the top of its screen.

The first Spotlight creator is Chelsea Devantez, who hosts the podcast Celebrity Book Club. On Fridays, Chelsea and special guests including Emily V. Gordon, Gabourey Sidibe, Ashley Nicole Black and Lydia Popovich will meet to discuss the memoirs of “badass celebrity womxn,” as an announcement describes it.

The idea for the show began a year ago when Devantez was reading Jessica Simpson’s memoir and started recapping it on Instagram. The reaction from her followers prompted her to expand the concept into a podcast.

Upcoming episodes will feature Oscar-nominated writer and producer Emily V. Gordon talking Drew Barrymore’s “Little Girl Lost;” actress Stephanie Beatriz discussing Celine Dion’s memoir “My Story My Dream;” Leighton Meester on Carly Simon’s “Boys in the Trees;” and a special Valentine’s Day episode where Chelsea and TikTok star Rob Anderson read Burt Reynolds’ and Loni Anderson’s competing divorce memoirs.

“Apple Podcasts Spotlight helps listeners find some of the world’s best shows by shining a light on creators with singular voices,” said Ben Cave, Global Head of Business for Apple Podcasts, in a statement about the launch. “Chelsea Devantez has created a fun, vibrant space with Celebrity Book Club for listeners to gain new perspectives on the celebrities we thought we knew. We are delighted to recognize Chelsea and Celebrity Book Club as our first Spotlight selection and look forward to introducing creators like Chelsea to listeners each month,” he added.

Apple says future Spotlight creators will be announced monthly from across a range of podcast genres, formats and locations, and will often focus on independent and underrepresented voices. The content is previewed ahead of selection to ensure quality, but there are no specific requirements about the podcast size and reach.

In general, the new Spotlight creators will debut toward the front of the week, but the specific days are fluid to adapt to holidays, major cultural events, and others. The next Spotlight selection, for example, will launch in mid-February.

The Spotlight creators will be featured at the top of the Browse tab of Apple Podcasts and will be promoted through the Apple Podcasts social media accounts. Some form of in-app featuring will continue throughout the entire month the creators are in the “spotlight.”

Apple says it will also collaborate with the featured creators on their own channels. And, over time, you’ll see promotion via additional Apple-operated channels including outdoor advertising in major U.S. metros.

The news of the new editorial program comes shortly after a report from The Information suggested Apple is working to expand its podcasts platform with the introduction of a podcast subscription service, threatening rivals like Spotify, SiriusXM and Amazon.

Though Apple Podcasts still leads the market, Spotify has been catching up by spending over $800 million on podcast companies, like Anchor, the Ringer, Gimlet Media, and more recently, podcast ad company Megaphone.

SiriusXM, meanwhile, bought podcast management and analytics platform Simplecast, ad tech platform AdsWizz, and podcast app Stitcher. Not to be left out, Amazon just a few weeks ago announced it was acquiring the podcast network Wondery.

Beyond helping the creators grow their audience, Apple says the larger goal with the program is to welcome new audiences to podcasts, in general.

Though podcasts are growing in popularity, the monthly podcast listener base is just 37% in the U.S., according to Edison Research. That means it’s nowhere near being an activity that’s popular among a majority of the U.S. population at this time. Before Apple can effectively monetize podcasts as a subscription service, it needs to help get more people listening to podcasts on a regular basis.

Apple declined to say if the program would expand outside the U.S. at a later date.

Continue Reading

Uncategorized

We’ll discuss the future of the gig economy and contract works at TC Sessions: Justice on March 3

Published

on

Like so many other subjects, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has brought concerns about the gig economy and contract workers into sharp focus over the past year which is why we’ll be diving into this topic at TC Sessions: Justice on March 3.

From food delivery services like Seamless to warehouse and fulfillment jobs at places like Amazon, these often low-paid jobs have kept people supplied with essentials during one of the most difficult moments in modern American history.

But why is it that jobs our society has labeled “essential” often carry the least number of protections for those who fulfill them? Is there a way to ensure a safety net for the people who need it the most?

As the pandemic continued to rage, California passed Proposition 22. The law was regarded as a big win for companies like Uber and Lyft (who pumped a collective $200 million into promotions) and a tremendous step back for workers looking for basic employment rights. But the battle between the Prop 22 proponents and the gig workers who oppose it continues. A group of rideshare drivers in California and the Service Employees International Union have filed a lawsuit alleging Proposition 22 violates California’s constitution.

To discuss the gig worker economy and its future in a post-Prop 22 world, we will be joined by Jessica E. Martinez, the co-executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, an organization devoted to promoting health and safety conditions for workplaces; Vanessa Bain, a gig worker activist who co-founded the Gig Workers Collective; and Christian Smalls, a former Amazon worker turned activist.

TC Sessions: Justice will be held online on March 3. Get your tickets today!


Continue Reading

Uncategorized

Wendy Xiao Schadeck becomes Northzone’s first New York partner

Published

on

Northzone‘s new partner Wendy Xiao Schadeck isn’t new to the firm — she actually joined back in 2015.

Before entering the venture world, Schadeck co-founded co-working and childcare startup CoHatchery. And as a Northzone principal, she’s already been involved in the firm’s investments in Spring Health (mental health), 3box (cloud infrastructure), Livepeer (blockchain-based video transcoding) and Magic.link (user authentication).

More broadly, Northzone says Schadeck helped to develop the firm’s investment theses around crypto, consumer technology, health, developer/web 3.0 infrastructure.

“Wendy has already proven herself through very insightful sector-driven thought leadership and has solidified our position in the New York ecosystem,” said General Partner Pär-Jörgen Pärson in a statement. “She has defined and redefined an honest, authentic and inspiring dialogue between herself as an investor and the entrepreneurs she supports.”

Schadeck told me that her interests have “crystallized” around three key areas — “open data, open finance and open community.” And she said that with her promotion to partner, she will be able to work even more closely with founders, a topic she’s become “obsessed” with.

“We’ve all seen this VC meme, ‘How can I be helpful?’ and I’ve sometimes accidentally literally said it,” Schadeck said. “But we mean it: Other than providing capital, first and foremost, on good terms, what other dimensions are there that are becoming more and more important? … How can I customize my approach to provide what the founder needs from me?”

While Schadeck is Northzone’s first New York-based partner (its other partners are in London and Stockholm), she said she will make investments outside the region, albeit with an NYC focus.

“We’ve tried to do this matrix approach, where we both have sectors that we’re pretty excited about and build expertise and experience in, as well as relationships” she said. “And those relationships are better with local entrepreneurs.”

 

Continue Reading

Trending