NSO Pegasus: No Longer Flying Below the Radar

April 29, 2024

green-dino_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dumb dinobaby. No smart software required.

I read “AP Exclusive: Polish Opposition Senator Hacked with Spyware.” I remain fearful of quoting the AP or Associated Press. I think it is a good business move to have an 89 year old terrified of an American “institution, don’t you. I think I am okay if I tell you the AP recycled a report from the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab. Once again, the researchers have documented the use of what I call “intelware” by a nation state. The AP and other “real” news outfits prefer the term “spyware.” I think it has more sizzle, but I am going to put NSO Group’s mobile phone system and method in the category of intelware. The reason is that specialized software like Pegasus gathers information for a nation’s intelligence entities. Well, that’s the theory. The companies producing these platforms and tools want to answer such questions as “Who is going to undermine our interests?” or “What’s the next kinetic action directed at our facilities?” or “Who is involved in money laundering, human trafficking, or arms deals?”


Thanks, MSFT Copilot. Cutting down the cycles for free art, are you?

The problem is that specialized software is no longer secret. The Citizen Lab and the AP have been diligent in explaining how some of the tools work and what type of information can be gathered. My personal view is that information about these tools has been converted into college programming courses, open source software tools, and headline grabbing articles. I know from personal experience that most people do not have a clue how data from an iPhone can be exfiltrated, cross correlated, and used to track down those who would violate the laws of a nation state. But, as the saying goes, information wants to be free. Okay, it’s free. How about that?

The write up contains an interesting statement. I want to note that I am not plagiarizing, undermining advertising sales, or choking off subscriptions. I am offering the information as a peg on which to hang some observations. Here’s the quote:

“My heart sinks with each case we find,” Scott-Railton [a senior researcher at UT’s Citizen Lab] added. “This seems to be confirming our worst fear: Even when used in a democracy, this kind of spyware has an almost immutable abuse potential.”

Okay, we have malware, a command-and-control system, logs, and a variety of delivery mechanisms.

I am baffled because malware is used by both good and bad actors. Exactly what does the University of Toronto and the AP want to happen. The reality is that once secret information is leaked, it becomes the Teflon for rapidly diffusing applications. Does writing about what I view an “old” story change what’s happening with potent systems and methods? Will government officials join in a kumbaya moment and force the systems and methods to fall into disuse? Endless recycling of an instrumental action by this country or that agency gets us where?

In my opinion, the sensationalizing of behavior does not correlate with responsible use of technologies. I think the Pegasus story is a search for headlines or recognition for saying, “Look what we found. Country X is a problem!” Spare me. Change must occur within institutions. Those engaged in the use of intelware and related technologies are aware of issues. These are, in my experience, not ignored. Improper behavior is rampant in today’s datasphere.

Standing on the sidelines and yelling at a player who let the team down does what exactly? Perhaps a more constructive approach can be identified and offered as a solution beyond Pegasus again? Broken record. I know you are “just doing your job.” Fine but is there a new tune to play?

Stephen E Arnold, April l29, 2024


Got something to say?

  • Archives

  • Recent Posts

  • Meta