Sep 02, 2016

    Israeli spyware sparks concern of abuse by users


    THE discovery of sophisticated spyware to infiltrate and remotely take control of iPhones without leaving a trace has put a spotlight

    on Israel's secretive surveillance industry.

    Apple rushed out a security update last week after researchers said a prominent Emirati rights activist was targeted by "Pegasus" spyware attributed to Israeli firm NSO Group. It is among some 27 surveillance firms based in Israel, according to a recent report from British NGO Privacy International.

    For the firms involved, the technology is meant to fight crime and terrorism through legal means. Israel's defence ministry must also approve exports of sensitive security products.

    But activists question whether enough attention is paid to the potential for abuse of such software.

    An investigation by Lookout mobile security firm and Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto found the spyware that forced Apple's update last week to be rare and powerful.

    Emirati activist Ahmed Mansoor's phone "would have become a digital spy in his pocket, capable of employing his iPhone's camera and microphone to snoop on activity in the vicinity of the device, recording his WhatsApp and Viber calls, logging messages sent in mobile

    chat apps, and tracking his movements", they said.

    Daniel Cohen, a cyber-terrorism expert at Israel's Institute for National Security Studies, said the country's expertise in such products stems in part from its military, which puts a premium on cyber-warfare training.