NSO Group-Like Software: Where Did It Originate?

August 15, 2022

I noted another story related to the NSO Group Pegasus coverage. This report was “Israel Police’s Pegasus Spyware Prototype Revealed” talks about what may be an ur-NSO Group type software. Like literature majors who puzzle over an urHamlet, the mystery is, “Where does the idea originate?” Like Shakespeare, one of the most notable recyclers, the article suggests that:

Details and screenshots of a prototype version of the Pegasus spyware designed for Israeli police back in 2014 reveal the tools and far-reaching capabilities of a system that was slated to be deployed in everyday police work.

That suggests that the intelware was mostly functio0nal eight years ago. I learned:

… the [Pegasus] spyware was operationally deployed as early as 2016

That was six years ago.

The article points out:

Pegasus could read WhatsApp messages.

The article asserts:

Another capability … mentioned in the presentation is the interception of incoming and outgoing phone calls. Besides this ability, which seems to be relatively routine in the world of intelligence surveillance, there is another one known in the professional parlance as “volume listening” and is considered much more intrusive. In simple terms it means real time wiretapping to a device’s surrounding through the remote activation of the device’s microphone.

Another interesting alleged functionality is:

With the spyware, the police can gain full access to all the files stored on the phone, including those that are end-to-end encrypted. This encryption technology prevents access to a device’s content through cellular antennae or other infrastructures. Even if a file is intercepted, it cannot be decoded. However, on a device that has been infected with the spyware, all the files become visible.

My recollection is that the “origin” of the Pegasus tool was a person who worked in a mobile phone store. Perhaps this is true, but the functionality of the “prototype” almost a decade ago begs a question I find interesting:

“Where did the idea for Pegasus originate? Who came up with the requirements for a mobile phone capability like this?

I don’t have an answer to this question, but I will raise it in the context of the remarkable similarity among other types of intelware developed by individuals with some experience in the armed forces whose offices are in relatively close proximity in one country with reasonably close ties to the US. My lecture to a US government entity will be in mid-September. Perhaps other “real news” outfits will pursue the history of Pegasus. But whose idea was it in the first place? Maybe like the ur-Hamlet the question may not be answered. But those requirements! Spot on.

Stephen E Arnold, August xx, 2022

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