Spyware – or the End of Democracy
One should have known this earlier: Everything typed into the 30 billion smartphones worldwide or just any other digital device that is in your surroundings. All these messages and devices are prone to be hacked someday. Sooner or later.
But to take this on an even broader scale: There is a huge market nowadays consisting of underground organizations and government agencies which are all potential cyber attackers. Their aim is as simple as it sounds: Spying on their suspects.
The market booms
Precisely this scenario has become public recently. The name on everyone’s lips is Pegasus. This is a hacking software – spyware- of the Israeli company NSO Group which is licensed to governments. Several of their customers are highly decretive. Not only autocratic regimes but also democratic societies are interested in such a spying tool. The reason: Worldwide there are just a few companies with such sophisticated spying skills but even a larger number of prospective buyers. After some extensive investigation, Citizen Lab, a Canadian research group, disclosed some secretive customers like Saudi Arabia, Hungary, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, India, and the United Arab Emirates.
€25, 000 per month
The NSO Group itself claims to have no control over the activities of their clients. However, regarding Israel’s leading role within the cyber-sphere, one should be alarmed about the long-term impact of this software. It has the potential to completely spy on its victims.
The reason for developing such a sophisticated software is Israeli due to Israeli’s role and neighbors in the Middle East. In addition, Israel is home to a large number of IT students who are among the best in the world. There is even a lucrative government-funded business with education and a high salary for cybersecurity jobs in the army. In four years, they learn the skills that take others in other countries more than seven years. Their starting salary begins at € 25 000 per month.
The Greatest Hack
The software is so highly sophistical that it is even capable of hacking the latest iPhone – previously considered one of the most secure devices. Android phones are even easier to hack with the software. Among its victims are human right activists, journalists, politicians and many more. This was revealed by police investigations, which since 2016 have been able to collect a list of 50 000 phone numbers from 50 countries that are considered potential spy targets. Even French President Emmanuel Macron’s number was on the list. The software secretly monitors every move and is able to access the microphone and even the camera. It has also reportedly been used by repressive governments that have spied on innocent people, including close contacts related with Jamal Khashoggi, the murdered Washington Post columnist.
All of this poses one big question:
How close are we to governments gathering collecting information about us on a scale that we could not have imagined even in our wildest dreams? The widespread use of still unregulated spy software has become a one of the biggest threats to democracies. While NSO Group emphasizes the importance of Pegasus software for combating terrorism, there is still huge potential for the technology to be used on other targets: Journalists who try to fight for freedom as their reports educate thousands of people about the circumstances in their countries. Politicians who are being spied on due to in proper behavior. Or just innocent citizens who dare to speak their minds.
Is this the way we want to use technology?
Am I being hacked? How to find out:
Amnesty International, a human rights group, has published a tool to check whether one is being infected with the Pegasus software. It is called Mobile Verification Toolkit (MVT). Find more information on how to use this tool. Here are some important facts:
An easy way to check: Is your iPhone running slow, consuming more Internet or running low on battery quickly even though you don’t use it as often?
Of course, this can also be a by-products of software updates but still, one should be careful in every situation nowadays, not only in the digital world.