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Supporters of Mexico’s Soda Tax Targeted with NSO Exploit Links (2017) (citizenlab.ca)
112 points by deegles 8 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 18 comments



It seems logical that when once we have a pure "wild west" situation where anyone contract for the hacking of any target, that corporations producing products arguably not in the public good will have an incentive to target their critics.


>where anyone contract for the hacking of any target

Unfortunately, the law does not reflect this. Governments still have a monopoly on these sorts of attacks. If you do it without the government blessing, you usually end up in a cage.


Companies like this have a bright future as the result of a quirk of resource economics.

Short version is, resource rich governments don't need a sophisticated state apparatus to stay in power, so long as they can pay the army. (See "resource curse," and demesquitas "logic of political suvival")

It means their domestic intelligence capability is not as mature as that of a democracy, so they have to go to market for sophisticated technical surveillance services. Enter mercenary intelligence companies like NSO.

Mexico is an exception, but in general if there were a way to get early exposure to this market, the margins are probably hyper political and irrational, and it's not going away.

Maybe DPRK will trade these services to unstable regimes for currency and support, but imo these sort of companies are here to stay.


>It means their domestic intelligence capability is not as mature as that of a democracy,

That step is not one I can follow. Wouldn't a military kleptocracy stand even more to gain from keeping an eye on everyone than a democracy would? In a democracy almost nobody is an enemy of the people but in a militaristic dictatorship almost everyone is an enemy of the state. Domestic intelligence a la East Germany is way more important when the government is brutal and hated. In America the average person would not side with the revolution if they had the opportunity, so spotting revolutionaries isn't very important.

If anything, private companies are springing up to do this because small military dictatorships want their services way more than the average small democracy.

If democracies tend to have expansive intelligence agencies it is not because they need them more than, say, Putin, but because their populations are so rich and happy that they are willing to shoulder a giant black budget on pure faith.


Democracies have mature intel capabilities because their public services are so large that they can mobilize the resources for things like custom malware, electronics, and a kind of parallel tech industry.

Basically, if a government depends on a tax base (and not resource money), it's going to have a real domestic intelligence capability. This also explains non-democratic but sophistcated states, as it's a question of tax base. Democracies are a useful example of this.

In a resource cursed economy, the government doesn't need public services because they make their money on resources, not taxes. What's changed is their people have cell phones and can organize online, which means small coalition resource states are on their back foot, hence going to the mercenary market for intel solutions.

I encourage you to look up the references in the original comment to become familiar with the dynamics at play.


>Democracies have mature intel capabilities because their public services are so large that they can mobilize the resources for things like custom malware, electronics, and a kind of parallel tech industry.

This still comes across as an unsupported assertion. To use the US as an example, the NSA isn't particularly synergistic with the NHS or any other non-clandestine government agency. They have their own budget and an independent asset sheet. The NSA actually competes for resources with the NHS, as the tax burden can only be so high. In an alternate universe where heart disease killed more people every every year than domestic terrorism (cough), Congress could make the NHS bigger without raising taxes by reducing funding for the domestic surveillance system.

With the same economy, a country with no civil service would be able to afford more internal security than one with a large, expensive civil service. Taken to the ultimate extreme you get a government that provides no services but levies a high tax/bribery burden, so that it can use it to fund a domestic security apparatus (which is badly needed because military kleptocracies are not popular!).


Again, I would encourage you to look up demesquitas "logic of political survival." It provides the foundation for the view, and isn't really something one can intuit without familiarity with the model.


I've been down that road before, and trust me geopolitical theories are a dead end. Nobody can predict anything, and almost everything written is just an elaborate justification for why whatever is happening today was inevitable. It is disappointing to realize but armchair HN comments are the best you can hope for in this area, as they have the advantage of not being as long to read.


I've been down that road before, and trust me geopolitical theories are a dead end. Nobody can predict anything, and almost everything written is just an elaborate justification for why whatever is happening today was inevitable. It is disappointing to realize but armchair HN comments are the best you can hope for in this area, as they have the advantage of not being as long to read.

That’s a far more sweeping and far less supported statement than the one you’ve been demanding citations for, don’t you think? Besides, unless you’re a peofessional commenting on your field, then you’re matching armchair with armchair, without even the benefit of being able to point to existing theories supporting your view.


Gesturing at a body of academic work will only move the discussion forwards if everyone already likes it from past experiences or trusts it implicitly, which might be true for chemistry but is not so true for polsci!


That’s true, and as a debate it’s not very fertile ground. On the other hand if we all go into this with an eye on sharing perspective rather than changing minds, it could be edifying. I’m pretty skeptical of political science theories, but they can be very compelling even as they lack the rigor of a true science. Moreover, the people who lead us definitely ascribe to these theories and this “science” and understanding their mindset has to have some value.

Besides, even if the conclusions can only have the strength of guesses and inferences, or just demonstrating historical patterns that can have value.


>but they can be very compelling even as they lack the rigor of a true science

That's really the heart of the problem. As any good salesman knows, there are many ways to convince someone that don't involve demonstrating your case, and many of them appear rational. This "scientific rigor" thing isn't just a cultural gatekeeping mechanism, it was built up over a centuries-long slow realization that the natural emotion of being convinced has to do with the truth in only the rarest of cases. The feeling that you're learning something is seriously intoxicating, and it turns out that it is just as prone to leading you astray as any other feeling. Geopolitical theory is always compelling; and it's just as compelling on every side of every argument, to the point where it's clear that it won't actually help you determine which side is right. That's because, along with a few other fields that I won't drag in to this, it is essentially the crystalized art of activating the human feeling of being compelled.


"Resource curse" is really a governance/culture curse. Norway does just fine with huge oil reserves, same with the UK, and the USA. Canada's and Australia's economies are largely based on resource extraction (and especially so 50 or 100 years ago) and I wouldn't say that those countries have a "resource curse" problem.

It is not the resource that is the problem. Plenty of non-resource countries are really screwed up also.


> targeted with government-exclusive spyware.

Honestly, who can even say that? What makes something "government exclusive"? These types of comments are a legitimacy stink to me. What type of narrative are these people selling?

Reminds me of the "proof" the DNC was hacked by the Russian government was because guccifer email was... sent through a random Russian email relay???


NSO Group sells exclusively to governments. There is a quote from them in the top section of their Wikipedia page. [1]

>According to the company, it provides "authorized governments with technology that helps them combat terror and crime".

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NSO_Group


> Reminds me of the "proof" the DNC was hacked by the Russian government was because guccifer email was... sent through a random Russian email relay???

Russian email relays had nothing to do with the attribution of the Guccifer 2.0 hacks. Separately, the identity of Guccifer is known because he confessed: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guccifer?wprov=sfla1


the wikipedia article clearly states that there was no proof he did it and it even says in the opening paragraph that it’s a lie by the US govt


You appear to still not understand that Guccifer and Guccifer 2 are two separate entities.




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