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Israeli Software Helped Saudis Spy on Khashoggi, Lawsuit Says (nytimes.com)
190 points by forapurpose 8 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 139 comments



NSO Group was co-founded by ex-members of Unit 8200, the Israeli Intelligence Corps unit responsible for collecting signals intelligence. The unit relies on selecting 16-18 year-old recruits with the ability for rapid adaptation and speedy learning. Former soldiers of this unit have also created ICQ, Viber, Incapsula, Onavo, and dozens of other IT companies[1]. "How Israel Rules The World Of Cyber Security" is a short documentary by VICE[2].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unit_8200

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ca-C3voZwpM


It is always bizarre when people talk of "ex-Unit 8200", it is the largest unit in the IDF.

Given that Israel has universal conscription you might just as well call them Israeli and be done with it.


Biggest doesn’t mean big. It’s a few thousand people big, ~1% of the IDF as a whole. And in my limited experience, it does carry clout within the tech scene in Israel.

On the other hand, whenever people tout “ex Israeli military” as a positive or negative, I also find it silly. That’s the vast majority of the country!


8200 and it’s sub units is double in size as the entire Israeli navy so they are closer to 10% than to 1%.

99XX and 81XX are each more than 1% of the active IDF personnel and they are much smaller than 8200.


I think it's disturbing what happened to Khashoggi...but I don't understand what the U.S. or the West is supposed to do about it. We can't go to war over some guy who wasn't even our citizen, killed in Turkey, by a foreign government. I hate to say it, but don't things like this happen all the time in certain countries?


> but I don't understand what the U.S. or the West is supposed to do about it.

Stop actively and vocally supporting the violent consolidation of power that the murder was part of?

> We can't go to war over some guy who wasn't even our citizen, killed in Turkey, by a foreign government.

We could, especially since he was a US permanent resident and a journalist for US publications; we won't, but then going to war isn't exactly the only possible action.

As well as he aforementioned steps, we could just stop aiding the war being wages by he regime.that committed the murder. The political threshold of support for such an action is much lower than going to war.


It's not a matter of going to war. The Saudi regime has been propped up by the U.S. since WWII as a means of projecting power over the Arabian peninsula. It's not the same as say Russia or China. The U.S. has a direct role in enabling the crimes of the Saudi regime, and very likely the withdrawal of that support would effect change.


With regards to China, we opened up trade with them in the 70s and our companies helped build up their economy by offshoring there.

But again, this Khashoggi guy is one guy, a Saudi citizen...not ours. We don't deal with any other country like this...what makes Khashoggi so important as to disrupt treaties and trade deals between nations?


That may be the way that some countries view the world.

The purpose of trade is to serve people, not the other way around. Whoops, I meant make a lot of money for corporations.

Also, even if you approach this from a pure self-interest angle, at some point, the US might start to lose influence if they keep undermining their own stated values, not to mention allowing other powers to murder their residents with impunity.

Also, if the Americans are looking for a reason to get involved, his son is American.


If we went to war with every country that committed hits against their own people we'd be at war with half the world. There's some balance and restraint we have to have in dealing with the world. Imperialism is not a sustainable strategy in 2018.


Definitely agree we should not just declare war. I just don't want us to get into the habit of throwing up our hands, and saying "Oh well, one more dead guy/reporter/child/female protester. Oh well."


He had a Green Card which is pretty close to being a US citizen legally.


Murdering dissidents while they are in other countries doesn't happen all of the time, no. That's why it's news.


I think it does happen all the time. I'd guess weekly at least.

My guess is this case was specifically targeted by media influencing government agencies to exert pressure on SA.

The case itself is also almost a perfect fit - a good link to the USA and English speaking world, very solid evidence collected by Turkey, etc.


I don't see how it could happen that often and go unreported. The only way would be if the killings happened with the country finding out about it.


A good proportion I suspect never get fully investigated. People 'going missing', dying of 'suicide', 'car crash', 'heart attack', etc. All of those are pretty trivial for a state to make happen anywhere else in the world with a low chance of being caught.

I suspect there are also some where there is reasonable evidence a foreign state was involved, but the victim simply wasn't sufficiently noteworthy for the media to care, and the case not being worthy of getting high level politicians involved in. For a state, using the brief time the president has talking to another state president to discuss a missing person rather than finalizing a new trade deal is a bad move.


Some intelligence agencies are more effective at controlling the narrative around their assassinations, e.g. the US' intelligence agencies media control.


It certainly happens: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/britain-charges-...

We're hearing more about Khashoggi because he was a journalist, I suppose.


I didn't say it doesn't happen. I said it doesn't happen all of the time. The incident you linked to was a big story, I remember it.

If these things happened all of the time they wouldn't be reported in national papers. A mugging in San Francisco isn't in the Washington Post.


But we only really hear about the failures, or when the mission didn't go according to plan and someone was caught. When it does go according to plan, no one knows about it, or at least there usually isn't enough evidence to be able to attribute blame.


How can a person disappear from the planet without anyone knowing about it? When it's within the guilty country that's one thing, they can suppress the information from getting out. But to travel to another country and kill someone that doesn't really work.


Govt's don't usually announce when a spy goes missing.


> because he was a journalist

He was a columnist for The Washington Post. He was known for having interviewed Osama Bin Laden a couple times.

News was slow and after the Chinese trade imbalance/conflict (finally someone stepped up to address it), so it looked like there was news to be had against another objectively-bad-government. Even if just to see what Trump might do to resolve (or sabotage) our uncomfortably close relationship. Nope, he just tried to promote it like the moron he is, in context of the assassination.

I really wish he woulda dumped another of these 19th century (depending on when they became stable) strategic allies, as I'm certain there's 0 chance the next POTUS will.


and because he was wearing an apple watch


Well, I mean, Russia’s done quite a bit of it, but we hear as much or more about many of those as about Kashoggi.


We're not likely to go to war against Saudi Arabia over this, but currently we're assisting their war in/with Yemen. I'm not really sure why we're helping them with that, and I'm not sure anyone else knows either but the easy option in this case is just to stop helping. Maybe stop selling them weapons, while we're at it.


I think this case blew-up because the Saudi's were caught red-handed. Erdowan realized he could put extreme pressure on the Saudi's because his evidence was so strong. I think you're probably right that this sort of thing happens with some frequency, but you can only call foul if you have hard evidence which is much more rare.


it was a handful of factors: erdogan having strong evidence like you said and leaking it slowly to maximize impact, the fact that it was a journalist meaning journalists paid a great deal of attention to it, the fact that the details were almost like fiction, and the many people opposed to the atrocities in yemen/general opponents of the saudi regime using it as a convenient lever against mbs. there are probably a few more notable ones but those are the main currents as i see it.


Arms embargoes, economic sanctions and travel restrictions I think would all be on the table as responses.


You forgot changing your Facebook profile picture


For one guy? What about the people killed in China, Russia, etc? I mean, there's dozens of countries that hit certain political targets with either imprisonment or death. I don't think that's a sustainable diplomatic policy. And when do you lift it?


You might want to look into the Magnitsky Act, as that's a similar action taken against Russia. It's context for what countries are doing against murders orchestrated by the Russian government, and what they could do against the government of Saudi Arabia.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnitsky_Act


> We can't go to war ...

There are many, many methods of leverage short of war. International relations happens all the time between every country on earth; only a tiny number of those interactions involves violence. In fact, a primary job of the people who practice international relations is to get things done without risking wars - sort of like doctors whose job is to get things done without killing the patient.

> some guy who wasn't even our citizen, killed in Turkey, by a foreign government

Human rights are widely considered to be universal, both in philosophy and in law. The U.S.'s own Declaration of Independence says 'all men are created equal ...'; it doesn't say 'all Americans'. Also, it's widely believed that if you let human rights deteriorate elsewhere, you are creating more risk for yourself. If your next door neighbor doesn't have freedom, there are many reasons to think you might be next. Finally, free, democratic countries tend to be much better partners on the world stage - they tend to be peaceful, stable, and prosperous.

Finally, Khashoggi was a journalist, which implicates a specific human right, freedom of the press.


I'm with you in theory on human rights. I believe every human deserves them. But I also understand there's practical real world constraints to enforcing our values around the world. That's a cost we can't afford. Like it or not the cost of not doing business with any non-democratic countries...would eventually be war. And a war on more fronts than we could deal with. The U.S. should serve as an inspirational example as it did in the past but we can't be nation builders and all-out imperialists.


I didn't say the things you disagree with, but I'll address your points:

> not doing business with any non-democratic countries

That would be a pretty extreme measure; I don't think anyone, or anyone respected, is calling for it. Another drawback to disengaging completely is that you lose future leverage; it's a punishment, in a way, but once it's done then you have no more relationship with the other party. 'I'm taking my ball and going home' is very amateur diplomacy.

> The U.S. should serve as an inspirational example as it did in the past but we can't be nation builders and all-out imperialists.

The choice of the U.S. isn't all or nothing - be purely "inspirational" or be "all-out imperialists". The U.S.'s soft power - the inspiration - was very potent until Trump, and to a smaller degree GW Bush, said democracy and human rights weren't a priority. It still could be revived to a significant degree. But there are other solutions, including the following:

* Intervene in ways that are efficient and effective. The U.S. can't help every country, and many interventions are ineffective. But lots of research and experience show what works in which scenarios.

* Support international law and norms that pressure regimes in the right direction. The UN in general plays a major role. The Responsibility to Protect, for example, was developed after Rwanda's massacres in the 1990s and, generally speaking, requires each government to protect the welfare of its citizens (rather than massacre them) and says the government is illegitimate otherwise. The International Criminal Court holds political leaders legally responsible for crimes (though I don't know that the U.S. officially supports it).

* Support mechanisms that provide stability, such as the World Bank (which supports infrastructure and other needs) and the International Monetary Fund (which loans governments money to prevent bankruptcies).


>I don't understand what the U.S. or the West is supposed to do about it.

They’re doing what they can and should do via policy decisions. I don’t remember reading a piece thus far where going to war with Suadia Arabia and Mohammed bin Salman was even a scenario.

By trying to minimize this act as something that “happens all the time” is partially due to society viewing these acts as normal for them.


One of the asked for measures that many countries that do business with Saudi Arabia is to cancel all military equipment contracts. That measure doesn't require anyone to go to war. Unfortunately, the clauses in these contracts specify heavy fines for cancellations.

One thing that I thought of that legislatures in sovereign countries could do is to pass a law that adds a clause to all military equipment contracts carried out by their constituent corporations that allows such cancellations in the case of human rights violations. It wouldn't help with the current event, but it might for future ones.


> I don't understand what the U.S. or the West is supposed to do about it

Sanction the NSO Group.


The US has considerable influence over the kingdom, and the bizarre political situation in the US has emboldened that regime to do all sorts of misbehavior, from holding rival aristocrats hostage to this killing.


Well, like we do with Russia, we (The US, the west in general) could sanction the hell out of them until they clean up their act.

Just sanction their oil sales, crank up production everywhere else to compensate. It would hurt but could certainly be done. Then demand they stop waging genocide on Yemen, and demand they convert from a brutal dictatorial monarchy to a democratic republic with actual human rights for women. Or something like that. We could do all that, but we wont.

The reason we wont is that we need Saudi Arabia to wage our (the US', the Wests') wars in the Middle East, and right now they've just lost their play in Syria, and the west is hoping that all those ISIS fighters they've deployed through Saudi Arabia that are leaving Syria will find a home in the desert in SA somewhere, instead of coming to us in the West. So right now, nobody wants to upset them, and so we get a nice show of the hypocrisy of our leaders, who speak of human rights only when convenient, while being friends with a psychopathic serial killer.


Can you imagine being a software engineer and being okay with getting rich by developing technology to out dissidents and have them murdered by some of the most oppressive governments on earth? Like, that's what you choose to spend your time on.


Very unlikely that it’s presented this way. People working in NSO feel they are doing a public service by helping catch bad guys. Given the Israeli sensitivity around terrorism, it’s an easy sell, and I’m sure NSO has success stories around such use.


Given that Israel regularly employs deadly force against civilians, this does not absolve NSO's software engineers from moral culpability. That is like saying the backroom boys at Dow who developed napalm thought it was just being used against "bad guys".


Moral culpability depends on perspective. It’s not absolute. In some societies it’s immoral to consume alcohol, in others it’s immoral to get a divorce or use electricity on Saturdays.

From the perspective of NSO developers, they are helping prevent the next attack against civilians somewhere. I can’t fault them for that.


Now, NSO developers can have a frank and honest dialog with their leadership about how they made it possible to carry out an attack against a civilian somewhere similar to the dialog between Google employees and their leadership concerning Operation Dragonfly.


Google has 100 times as many employs as NSO group. The equivalent for a group of 100 Google employees signing a petition is one person signing it. They can just be fired & replaced.


That's not a difference in what's right and what's wrong. It's a disagreement over what the developers are actually doing.


why are you discussing moral relativism so boldly as if it’s a fact. it’s that postmodernist philosophy that’s totally degraded society.

in some societies it’s “immoral” not to rape someone as punishment or to not kill a “unclean” ethnicity and your definition supports that


Only the recognition of relative morality is modern. Moral always differed between region and cultures, but our crusading ancestors said it’s only their moral that’s correct and tried to fix other societies to conform.


Moral relativism deals with the idea that there is no fact in morality.


Killing people is immoral in any society. If you have an average IQ you understand eventually what your product will be used for.


Murdering people is immoral in any society, but whether a given slaying constitutes murder or not varies widely. There's justifiable self-defense, capital punishment etc.


> Killing people is immoral in any society

Most societies make an exception for killing enemies of the state. Soldiers are seen as heroes fighting for their country not as immoral killers.



I wonder if the Sentinelese find it immoral?


Looks like they find it less immoral than manipulating people into believing fake religious stuff.


Guns, cars and knives can kill people too. Also drugs and alcohol, how about banning people working on those stuff?


Went over your head didnt it? Nobody is talking about banning software. Here we are talking about developing software that is specifically designed for governments for hacking phones and spying on citizens.


Who would know it is deployed on another countries' citizens? If anything it is the Saudi who chose to use it, why shift the blame to the original developer? Hope you understand the point now.


> From the perspective of NSO developers, they are helping prevent the next attack against civilians somewhere. I can’t fault them for that.

They are selling spy software to regimes that are known to kill civilians. Ergo they are not preventing attacks against civilians; they are enabling attacks against civilians. No moral relativism necessary.

Even with respect to Israel’s “counter” terrorism efforts, if the NSO development team’s motivation is to prevent attacks on civilians, then enabling Israel to attack and kill civilians is something for which they are morally culpable.


Ah come on when has Israel last employed force offensively, not defensively? As in first strike (not a retaliatory counter-strike) motivated mainly by economics/politics, not safety (e.g. like US war in Iraq or UK attacks on Syria or Russian occupation of Crimea although even then you could argue they were just defending their base but Israel's are milder than even that, such as destroying rocket/nuclear facilities in Syria and Iran).


Israel is operating its warplanes in Syria today. I would dare say that combat air missions in a country that is not trying to invade you, and that did not invite you, constitutes "employed force offensively".


Almost nobody engages in “offensive” wars since the Nazis, it’s always some sort of “defensive” or “retaliatory” action.


We used to have War departments. Now we have defense departments. It's a giant white-wash. If it really was defense then nobody would ever cross their borders in a uniform.


Sorry to correct you, the Nazis claimed they were "defending" themselves from the Jewish threat. So no exception even for them.


You must have missed the 'lebensraum' bit.


True, I was focusing on the Jewish persecution.

However, even the lebensraum concept has undertones of defense against a threat rather than pure conquest: the term itself refers to space as a necessity for life rather than the object of simple greed. The lebensraum was considered by Nazi ideology "necessary for the survival" of the German race, against the threat of "inferior and decaying races". As far as I can understand it, the whole Nazi ideology is informed by a vision of history as a zero sum game and by a "triumph or perish" attitude- so that every aggression can be justified as a necessary and ultimately defensive move.


Israel uses deadly force against civilians engaged in acts of force against Israel.

You can argue that it’s not a proportional response, but there’s a clear editorial bias to refer to one side of a force exchange as “civilian” and the other as “deadly”.


They use deadly force against people protesting in the Gaza Strip, an area of land the residents are unable to leave and is under an Israeli blockade. One side is considered "deadly" as they've killed over 150 people, many of them children, while the other side has killed 1.


Ridiculous claim. A few months ago Gaza militants fired 460 rockets in one day, injuring 80 people (mostly civilians) and killing one, and the IDF has barely done anything besides bomb empty buildings.

When's the last time your country restrained itself after being hit by 460 rockets in one day?


Not a ridiculous claim, the protestors that the Israeli army shot were not launching rockets. They were protesting, largely nonviolently. Thousands of civilians have been injured at these protests, and it is difficult to get the proper medical care when you're under a blockade.

> the IDF has barely done anything besides bomb empty buildings.

The immediate retaliation for those rocket strikes killed three people. How is that "barely anything?"


They use deadly force against people firing missiles in the Gaza Strip, an area of land the residents are unable to leave and is under an Egyptian and Israeli blockade because it is controlled by Hamas, a terrorist organization. One side is considered "deadly" as they've killed over 150 people, many of them children because they are used as human shields by the terrorists, while the other side has killed 1, because they're incompetent.

Fixed that for you.


"Israel uses deadly force against civilians [they think might be] engaged in acts of force against Israel" would be closer to the truth. Missiles doesn't check if everyone near are bad guys before exploding.


How about the engineers who did Manhattan? Scientists and engineers have always been a part of wars, just like the other people.


Many of then joined the project convinced it was the only way to stop the Axis from developing a nuclear bomb, and at least some of them were opposed to it's use by 1945, particularly against civilians. Not really comparable to an apartheid state currently at peace.


Israel is pretty much constantly shelled by rockets. And there are capable state, and quasi-state actors behind that who officially claim they want it to be eliminated.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Palestinian_rocket_a...

The fact, that majority of its population can enjoy relatively peaceful life is thanks to organizational, and technological superiority of Israeli military. Which depends on work of Israeli engineers whose motivation is therefore exactly the same: do military tech to stop anti-Israeli "Axis".


Would have been great if the yanks had this mentality towards the troubles in Ireland instead of supplying the IRA with weapons and explosives. Moral relativism is always fun.


They are also guilty of deaths by nuclear weapons.


And we've got some quite famous statements from quite a few of them that they knew quite well, and felt the full weight of what they were doing.

I would presume because they weren't sold the idea that what they were doing had any other express intent-purpose or plausible outcome for use even used by the people they worked for, which alone I think warrants a different group to compare this situation to.

ars 8 months ago [flagged]

> Given that Israel regularly employs deadly force against civilians

???????

Say what now?

The Israeli combatant to non-combatant death ratio is among the best in the world, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civilian_casualty_ratio

If anything developing such software would be a moral imperative, not something to be upset about.

ryanlol 8 months ago [flagged]

I think your article just confirms that Israel does indeed regularly employ deadly force against civilians. Most other countries manage just fine without doing so.

ars 8 months ago [flagged]

I'm sure you are not implying they do so on purpose. Israel does better than anyone else in the world at minimizing civilian causalities, but accidents are a fact of war.

So, what other options does Israel have? Let the combatants do whatever they want?

Are you seriously implying someone should not work for the Israeli military because of civilian accidents?

What's your endgame here? Israel should give up and let millions of people be murdered?

abalone has a severely skewed moral filter to say "this does not absolve NSO's software engineers from moral culpability" - he would rather millions of Israeli citizens get murdered?

I really hope you are not in any way agreeing with him because it is a truly loathsome thing to say, and I was absolutely shocked to see someone just causally speak like that.

The only moral thing to do here is do an even better job at this type of software to make the civilian casualty ratio even better.

ryanlol 8 months ago [flagged]

How many civilians has comparably sized Sweden killed in the past 30 years?

ars 8 months ago [flagged]

This is an excellent plan. Convince all the Arab countries around Israel not to try to exterminate it, and thereby Israel will become like Sweden and not need to fight.

That first step is a bit hard, but I assume you have some plan for that, considering it was your idea?


Actually, the plan would be - make Israel more like Sweden.

That way its neighbours actually enjoy their presence in the region.

But, as long as Israelis continue to justify the wanton murder of civilians as their 'right as Israelis', then there will be calls for the destruction of their state. Whether this is moral or not, is as yet undecided...

ryanlol 8 months ago [flagged]

How come nobody seems to want to exterminate Sweden? What's so special about Israel that they need to kill vast amounts of civilians to not get exterminated?

ars 8 months ago [flagged]

> that they need to kill vast amounts of civilians

Neither Israel nor Sweden kill vast amount of civilians. The fact that you write that is very concerning.

And the fact that you think it's Israel's fault that Arabs want to exterminate it is just ......... I don't even know what to write to someone like you.


Usually when someone says something you don't like or disagree with, you counter with an argument of your own.

If you can't think of anything to say in response, might I suggest that you either don't know the subject as well as you think, or you know the person you are arguing with is right and you have no retort.

cazum 8 months ago [flagged]

>Israel does better than anyone else in the world at minimizing civilian causalities, but accidents are a fact of war.

Israel regularly shoots and kills unarmed civilians for standing too close to a fence.

>So, what other options does Israel have? Let the combatants do whatever they want?

They are unarmed civilians, standing near a fence.

>Are you seriously implying someone should not work for the Israeli military because of civilian accidents?

Yes, one should not involve themselves in a violent force that regularly murders civilians for standing too close to a fence.

>What's your endgame here? Israel should give up and let millions of people be murdered?

They can start by not murdering the desperate civilians protesting the blockade and destruction of their homes by standing too close to a fence.

>he would rather millions of Israeli citizens get murdered?

Millions of Israelis are not at risk of being murdered by the unarmed civilians standing near fences.

>The only moral thing to do here is do an even better job at this type of software to make the civilian casualty ratio even better.

The most moral thing to do would be to pressure Israel to stop murdering civilians for standing too near a fence.

ars 8 months ago [flagged]

You mean these civilians https://www.reddit.com/r/CombatFootage/comments/9xla6y/israe... who just wanted a flag near the fence?

Or maybe these https://www.reddit.com/r/CombatFootage/comments/959z60/hamas... ?

This "story" that they were a bunch of unarmed civilians near a fence is completely fictional. It was actually a bunch of combatants mixed in with civilians, and Israel worked very hard to be selective. The accidents are terrible, no doubt about it, but no other army in the history of war has done better.

cazum 8 months ago [flagged]

Both of your links involve armed combatants fighting IDF. nobody is calling those people civilians. I'm calling these people civilians:

https://www.google.ca/amp/s/www.haaretz.com/amp/israel-news/...

https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-video-shows-pal...

https://mobile.twitter.com/dcipalestine/status/1017882226275...

ryanlol 8 months ago [flagged]

It's weird how both of the videos you show in defense of civilian deaths caused by Israel involve Israeli military being attacked.

If there were no attacks on civilians, that certainly makes you wonder if they could've avoided conflict by simply not sending their troops there.

ars 8 months ago [flagged]

> If there were no attacks on civilians, that certainly makes you wonder if they could've avoided conflict by simply not sending their troops there.

And then Hamas agents would breach the fence and enter Israel. And you think that's a good idea, why exactly?


Yeah and the other side specifically targets citizens and then hides amongst their own.


This story saddens me and reminds me of the well documented stories of Israeli defense industry selling to the apartheid government in South Africa. Ok to feed oppressors so long as it isn't affecting the chosen people. Criminal.


I wonder how extensively NSO Group products are backdoored and ringing home to Israel...


Being a software engineer doesn't preclude one from also being a fascist, or a totalitarian, or a nationalist, or a racist. There are no doubt people out there, software engineers just like you and me, who are nevertheless proud of what they've done to the world in these kinds of actions.

Certain types of software engineering attract these kinds of mindsets, in fact. Totalitarian-authoritarianism is a big problem in the technology world; its subtle effects all too easy to ignore, subjectively, when the mindset starts to take hold ..


Can you imagine being a software engineer and being okay with getting rich by developing technology that wastes some aggregated hundreds of thousands if not millions of man-hours per day on completely pointless trash like Candy Crush or refreshing the Facebook feed repeatedly? Sure there's no physical harm, but the reach seems to be further than a dissident here or there.


I don't hear this argument against other forms of entertainment. No one says "Lebron James makes millions by wasting billions of hours of ppl's time watching him play on TV."


thats pretty much why I left the DC area, thats what they all do in the defense sector.

and the technologies generally weren't trendy, PRIORITIES


What about the US Digital Service?


Didn't exist when I left


> Can you imagine being a software engineer and being okay with getting rich by developing technology to out dissidents and have them murdered by some of the most oppressive governments on earth?

It's a great question. Sadly, people have been making money on such things since the first tools were invented. Think about all the weapons manufacturers, for example. Think of the oppressors, killer, and torturers that rule and that serve the regimes - are they a different species than software engineers?

But the question is, why? What leads people to do it? I don't buy simplistic answers such as, 'they don't care'.


You just described what it's like to work for all global arms contractors, not to mention Palantir.

Cash Rules Everything Around Me -- Wu-Tang.


Well. Technology is technology, how would the developer predict how their code is being used? Also the developer owns NO rights of their written code, the right to license it to the Saudis here is from Israel government.


It's a private company who explicitly exist to develop and deploy exploits against private citizens priced at rates that are only affordable to Nation States... I'm pretty sure that the ex-IDF developers know exactly what they're doing.


One possible way is to judge the party based on their previous action who you are selling code.


This isn't a new situation either: I can remember colleagues in the '80s refusing to work on products that were used to simulate nuclear weapons (by agencies building them).


Should car engineers feel bad because a few people have used the cars they designed improperly and intentionally killed people with them?


The correct analogy would be a software engineer who crafts hacks for autonomous cars that tracks drivers to their locations, then sells them to oppressive regimes that go murder them. Yes, those engineers are scum of the earth.


not necessarily an analogy.


The context is not the same for the car engineers compared to engineer knowingly working on something with the explicit purpose to harm people


Right, and the context of the software is to catch terrorists and cybercriminals, and it was misused, as all tech can be. "The explicit purpose to harm people" is not an accurate description of the softwares primary purpose.


The terms "terrorists" and "cybercriminals" are basically euphemisms for political enemies.


Exactly -- and there's no veneer of legitimacy. NSO has been caught red-handed multiple times selling to atrocious governments. Every single person connected to that company is okay helping despots murder political rivals and dissidents. Just awful.


Can somebody explain how was it possible to get whatsapp messages when it applies E2E encryption?

Did they have physical access to the devices? Was it all remote? Is it even feasible on an individual level and what would be the alternative(Signal? Telegram?)?


NSO has a 0 interaction remote iphone 0day.

https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/qvakb3/inside-nso...

>The entrepreneur, who spoke to Motherboard on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk about the meeting, agreed, but said that NSO would have to target his other iPhone, which he brought with him and had a foreign phone number. He gave NSO that phone number and put the phone on the desk.

>After “five or seven minutes,” the contents of his phone’s screen appeared on a large display that was set up in the meeting room, all without him even clicking on a malicious link, he said.

>“I see clicking on all kinds of icons: email icon, SMS icon, and other icons,” he told Motherboard. “And suddenly I saw all my messages in there and I saw all the email in there and they were capable to open any information that was on my [iPhone].”


Cryptography is a solved problem. Ignore the crypto, attack the endpoints. I assure you there are many many attacks out there for compromising iOS and Android that do not require physical access.


It's unclear, but from the article it seems to suggest that his phone had bad software running on it and was recording keystrokes at the OS level.

Encryption wouldn't help you in this case since you can just record the strokes (maybe see the screen) like the regular user would see.

Not sure how they'd do this though, maybe he was using Android?


It was an iPhone. They aren't safer than android you know. Just different.


I think they generally are safer - Apple has a better security posture and tighter control over both the hardware and OS. Though not perfect clearly.


pwn the endpoint devices' operating systems and bootloaders.


Citizen Lab [0] has an excellent writeup, it got installed by exploiting a vuln in iOS which jailbroke the device from a fake DHL parcel tracking link (screenshot included).

[0] https://citizenlab.ca/2018/10/the-kingdom-came-to-canada-how...


For what it’s worth, the Saudi’s also went to www.sinister.ly and paid $200 bucks a pop for certain spywares.


If by 'The Saudis', you mean 'someone from Saudi Arabia', then sure. The Americans did it too. As did pretty much every other nation.


By 'The Saudis' he probably meant 'A fixer for the highest levels of Saudi leadership'


They already know what will happen if they will be caught doing this type of things.


How do you know that?!


Google "nokia2mon2" that was the username Saud al-Qahtani, an adviser to the Saudi court used on various US-based hacking forums.

Here's a wiki article about him on a Las Vegas based hacking forum https://wiki.hackforums.net/index.php?title=Nokia2mon2

He did not make any efforts to conceal his identity.


NYTimes: It is anti-semitic and scandalous that Facebook hired someone else to point out that George Soros' money helped groups critical of Facebook.

Also NYTimes: Israeli Software Helped Saudis...


I'm not really sure I see your point. Are you suggesting that this headline is anti-Semitic?


I've seen the FB / Soros story so much in the past couple of weeks that I wanted to point out a funny double-standard: Facebook isn't allowed to hire someone else to mention a famous Jewish person, but NYT is allowed to pin blame on Israel for the assassination of a journalist. Both seem trivial to me, but one is an anti-semitic dog-whistle and the other is, meh, let's pretend it's n.b.d. to involve Israel (i.e. Jews).

Personally, I'm saying it's roughly as anti-semitic as Sheryl Sandberg hiring someone to say something true about George Soros -- as in, neither is anti-semitic. But I think the bigger issue is the double-standard.


These days it's anti-Semitic to merely utter the word Israel in a negative tone!


Aside from the much more important core issues in the article, I found this bit interesting:

> Because of those sweepingly invasive capabilities, Israel classifies the spyware as a weapon. The company must obtain approval from the Defense Ministry for its sale to foreign governments.

Does the U.S. use such classification for spyware and similar tools? What are the standards which determine whether or not it's a weapon?


Given how much of the software development happens in Israel, there is probably some Israeli software in every phone. So describing it as "Israeli software" (as if it's the only software ever made in Israel or Israel is exclusively known for developing spyware) is extremely misleading.


Can't Apple sue them for hacking the iphones?


I think that depends on if there is enough tracable proof and if a case gets registered.


>>Saudi Arabia paid $55 million last year for its use

They are going to ask questions after the Saudis splashing $55m? As if they needed to ask questions. It's known why Russia, China, SA, UAE, Sudan and the likes want these programs


To use it the same way the US does?




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