Biden administration warns of spyware targeting dissidents

WASHINGTON – The federal government on Friday warned the public of the risks of commercial surveillance tools that have been used to spy...

WASHINGTON – The federal government on Friday warned the public of the risks of commercial surveillance tools that have been used to spy on journalists and political dissidents by infecting their phones with malware.

Warning, released by the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, came after the Biden administration’s actions in November against the NSO group, an Israeli surveillance company, and other companies that have developed malware. When placed on a target’s phone, the software provides access to almost all of the device’s content.

The administration has tried to make it harder for surveillance companies to operate in order to keep them away from developing commercial spyware that could be misused. U.S. officials are increasingly concerned that spyware can be placed on diplomats’ phones to learn government secrets, and that authoritarian governments are using it to track the work of journalists and political enemies.

The most insidious spyware can be installed on a phone without tricking a user into clicking a malicious link. It is difficult to defend against such exploits without a click, but the security center Friday describes the steps that can mitigate the risk, such as updating devices to the latest operating systems.

Last year, Apple discovered spyware which gave wide access to the devices used by US diplomats in Uganda. The discovery was made public shortly after the Biden administration took action against companies that develop such software, including the NSO Group.

NSO has long insisted that it choose and control its clients, turning down many who would abuse spyware. But tech companies and organizations defending political dissidents have questioned his track record.

The United States discovered in November that NSO’s software and its operations were contrary to US foreign policy interests. The Sales Department placed the company on its “list of entities,Which forbids him to receive key American technologies.

The Biden administration has also taken action against another Israeli company, Candiru, as well as companies based in Russia and Singapore. They weren’t accused of hacking the phones of journalists or dissidents, but of providing the tools to clients.

The warning from the National Center for Counterintelligence and Security – which is responsible for alerting the public to espionage threats and is part of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence – aims to build on the department’s action of Commerce and to raise awareness of the risks posed by spyware.

“While ordinary US citizens may not be the primary targets, we are deeply concerned that some governments are using commercial surveillance software in a manner that poses a serious counterintelligence and security risk to US personnel and systems, as well as to target journalists, human rights activists. or others seen as critics of regimes around the world, ”said Dean Boyd, spokesperson for the center.

Not much can be done to prevent the most advanced spyware from being placed on a phone. But less sophisticated software still relies on malicious links, which means avoiding suspicious emails, attachments, and messages can prevent some attacks.

Some of the center-to-center recommendations, like disabling options that allow a phone to track its location or cover cameras, will be more difficult to follow because they interfere with functions that make smartphones useful.

But other good practices included in the disclaimer are relatively easy. The recommendations included restarting mobile devices regularly to remove or damage certain types of malware that live in their memory rather than in their storage.

The center also recommended maintaining physical control of devices and using trusted virtual private networks.

“While these measures mitigate the risks, they do not eliminate them,” the center said. “It’s always safer to behave as if the device is compromised, so watch out for sensitive content. “

Christoph Hebeisen, director of security intelligence research at anti-malware firm Lookout, said that while phones have modern operating software with good security, many people are unaware of the vulnerabilities.

“People don’t realize that their phones are basically computers that are always connected to the Internet and can still be attacked,” he said.

Lookout studied the Pegasus spyware developed by NSO to learn how it uses exploits to take over all functions of a phone.

People often use applications that send encrypted data over the Internet; but this information must be unencrypted on the phone, and spyware like Pegasus can read it.

“Your device has the key,” said Mr. Hebeisen. “And at this point, it becomes possible to access the data.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Biden administration warns of spyware targeting dissidents
Biden administration warns of spyware targeting dissidents
Newsrust - US Top News
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