Maâti Monjib speaks slowly, like a man who knows he’s being listened to. 

It’s the day of his 58th birthday when we speak, but there’s little celebration in his voice. “The surveillance is hellish,” Monjib tells me. “It is really difficult. It controls everything I do in my life.”

A history professor at the University of Mohammed V in Rabat, Morocco, Monjib vividly remembers the day in 2017 when his life changed. Charged with endangering state security by the government he has fiercely and publicly criticized, he was sitting outside a courtroom when his iPhone suddenly lit up with a series of text messages from numbers he didn’t recognize. They contained links to salacious news, petitions, and even Black Friday shopping deals. 

A month later, an article accusing him of treason appeared on a popular national news site with close ties to Morocco’s royal rulers. Monjib was used to attacks, but now it seemed his harassers knew everything about him: another article included information about a pro-democracy event he was set to attend but had told almost no one about. One story even proclaimed that the professor “has no secrets from us.”

He’d been hacked. The messages had all led to websites that researchers say were set up as lures to infect visitors’ devices with Pegasus, the most notorious spyware in the world. 

Pegasus is the blockbuster product of NSO Group, a secretive billion-dollar Israeli surveillance company. It is sold to law enforcement and intelligence agencies around the world, which use the company’s tools to choose a human target, infect the person’s phone with the spyware, and then take over the device. Once Pegasus is on your phone, it is no longer your phone.

Moroccan academic and free-speech campaigner Maâti Monjib has been watched by his government for years. “The surveillance is hellish,” he says.GETTY

NSO sells Pegasus with the same pitch arms dealers use to sell conventional weapons, positioning it as a crucial aid in the hunt for terrorists and criminals. In an age of ubiquitous technology and strong encryption, such “lawful hacking” has emerged as a powerful tool for public safety when law enforcement needs access to data. NSO insists that the vast majority of its customers are European democracies, although since it doesn’t release client lists and the countries themselves remain silent, that has never been verified. 

Monjib’s case, however, is one of a long list of incidents in which Pegasus has been used as a tool of

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By: Tate Ryan-Mosley
Title: Inside NSO, Israel’s billion-dollar spyware giant
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2020/08/19/1006458/nso-spyware-controversy-pegasus-human-rights/
Published Date: Wed, 19 Aug 2020 11:00:00 +0000

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