Experts Warn of New Spyware Threat Targeting Journalists

Security experts have warned about the emergence of previously unknown spyware with hacking abilities comparable to NSO Group’s Pegasus that has already been used by clients to target journalists, political opposition figures, and an employee of an NGO, The Guardian reported. 

Researchers at the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto’s Munk School said the spyware, which is made by an Israeli company called QuaDream, infected some victim’s phones by sending an iCloud calendar invite to mobile users from operators of the spyware, who are likely to be government clients. Victims were not notified of the calendar invitations because they were sent for events logged in the past, making them invisible to the targets of the hacking. Such attacks are known as “zero-click” because users of the mobile phone do not have to click on any malicious link or take any action in order to be infected.

According to the Citizen Lab report, the hacking tool is marketed by QuaDream under the name Reign. The hacking attacks that have been discovered occurred between 2019 and 2021.

The research underscores that, even as NSO Group, the maker of one of the world’s most sophisticated cyber weapons, has faced intense scrutiny and been blacklisted by the Biden administration, probably curtailing its access to new customers, the threat posed by similar and highly sophisticated hacking tools continue to proliferate.

Microsoft posted information titled: “Standing up for democratic values and protecting stability of cyberspace: Principles to limit the threats posed by cyber mercenaries”. From the information:

The explosive growth of private “cyber mercenary” companies poses a threat to democracy and human rights around the world. Cyber mercenaries – private companies dedicated to developing, selling, and supporting offensive cyber capabilities that enable their clients to spy on the networks, computers, phones, or internet-connected devices of their targets – are are real cause for concern. These tools have been used to target elections, journalists, and human rights defenders and are increasingly accessible on the open market, enabling malicious actors to undermine our key democratic institutions.

At Microsoft, we believe that digital technology has incredible potential to improve lives across the world, support democracy, and protect and promote human rights. That is why, at the second Summit for Democracy, we were proud to join the international coalition of over 150 companies that make up the Cybersecurity Tech Accord individually and collectively pushing back on the cyber mercenary market by committing to a set of industry principles. 

Our collective commitment to limiting the threats posed by cyber mercenaries:

  • Take steps to counter cyber mercenaries’ use of products and services to harm people;
  • Identify ways to actively counter the cyber mercenary market;
  • Invest in cybersecurity awareness of customers, users, and the general public;
  • Protect customers and users by maintaining the integrity and security of products and services;
  • Develop processes for handling valid legal request for information.

Personally, I don’t see why cyber mercenaries need to exist at all. These groups do not have the right to hack into other people’s phones. If you haven’t updated your iOS devices in a while – now is a great time to do it.