Facebook Chokes NSO Group: Will NSO Group Tap Out?

April 27, 2020

Facebook has become a digital world unto itself. From the insouciance demonstrated during the Cambridge Analytica matter to the cheerful attempt to create a global currency, Facebook has was some might call digital schnorrer. Take data and do what’s necessary to get as much as possible for nothing. Pay for data? Nah. Testify so elder statesmen can understand? Nah. Make it easy for consumers to manage their free Facebook accounts? Nah.

These are fascinating characteristics of a social media company eager to bring people together. But the company has another characteristic, and it is one that certainly surprised the hapless researchers at DarkCyber.

Cyberscoop reported that the Facebook legal eagles are doubling down on the bet that they can squeeze the NSO Group. Is it for cash? Is it for power? Is it to make darned clear that Facebook is more powerful than a company which develops specialized software for government agencies? DarkCyber doesn’t know, but it is clear, if the information in “Facebook: NSO Group Used U.S.-Based Servers in Operations against WhatsApp” is accurate, Facebook is ready to rumble.

The write up states:

In court documents, Facebook-owned WhatsApp claims NSO Group used a server run by Los Angeles-based hosting provider QuadraNet “more than 700 times during the attack to direct NSO’s malware to WhatsApp user devices in April and May 2019.”

The article points out that:

The filing is a blow to NSO Group’s claims that its signature product, Pegasus, isn’t capable of running operations in the United States.

What’s remarkable is that the lawsuit has become increasingly high profile. Dust ups related to what DarkCyber calls intelware and third parties usually keep a lower profile. A good example is the efforts expended to keep the lid on the interesting litigation between Analyst’s Notebook and Palantir Technologies. This matter, if mentioned at a conference, evokes the question, “What? When?”

The Facebook NSO Group dispute is getting media traction. Cyberscoop includes the full 35 page document via link in its article.

DarkCyber’s view is:

  1. There are some ironic factors in Facebook’s pursuit of this matter; for example, allegedly Facebook wanted to license NSO Group’s Pegasus. Is Facebook a bride left at the alter?
  2. Is Facebook trying to deflect attention from its own data policies? ( It is helpful to keep in mind that Facebook has to pay $5 billion for its Cambridge Analytica adventure.)
  3. Facebook’s own behaviors have been troubling to some individuals due to its own privacy and data actions; for example, exposing friends of friends without oversight to Facebook partners.
  4. Facebook’s shift from the privacy procedures users assumed were in place to a more Wild West approach to data as the social media firm sought to expand its revenues and user base.

Intelware companies are not new, but they are small compared to today’s Facebook. Intelware companies are like some flowers which die in direct sunlight. A special climate controlled environment is necessary for survival.

Facebook may be waking up to the fact that certain government agencies want access to Facebook data. Specialized firms, not just NSO Group, have the ability to work around, under, and through whatever shields Facebook puts in place to keep Facebook data for Facebook. And when Facebook does play nice with government agencies, Facebook plays by its own rules and brings the ball and the referee to the game.

DarkCyber’s perception is that Facebook was and is offended by what it thinks NSO did or does. DarkCyber assumes that Facebook wants it own NSO Group-style capabilities and is defending itself in order to be the Facebook everyone knows and loves.

With the Facebook – NSO Group matter moving forward, the path each company, the lawyers, and possibly government officials will explore will be interesting to chart.

Plus who knows whether Facebook is fighting hard to protect its customers or fighting another battle.

Also, NSO Group may, like a WWE star, have a masked helper waiting in the wings eager to join the fray.

Stephen E Arnold, April 27, 2020

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