Loujain al-Hathloul, a Saudi activist helped to turn tables against NSO Group, one of the most sophisticated spyware companies in the world. As a result, the firm is facing a legal downpour. How did Loujain al-Hathloul uncover NSO's secrets?
The event began unfolding with a software glitch on Loujain al-Hathloul's iPhone. This was an unusual error in NSP's spyware since it allowed the Saudi women's rights activists and privacy researchers to uncover evidence. Hence, suggesting that NSO's spyware was behind hacking her iPhone . The spyware accidentally left a mysterious fake image in her phone which tipped the experts. Al-Hathloul is one of the nation's most prominent activists who is famous for helping lead a campaign that ended the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia. She was also jailed for harming national security.
Following her release in February 2021, she received an email from Google stating that hackers backed by the state were trying to get into her Gmail account. Scared that her iPhone was under threat, she contacted Citizen Lab, a Canadian privacy rights group. Following a six-month-long investigation, Bill Marczak, a Citizen Lab researcher made an 'unprecedented discovery'. He revealed that a malfunction in the software left back a copy of the malicious image file. Usually, such images get deleted after stealing messages.“It was a game-changer. We caught something that the company thought was uncatchable,” stated Marczak. He added that fiding the code left behind, was direct evidence of NSO's involvement. More about the state-backed hacking
The discovery occurred last year and started a storm of government and legal action putting NSO on the defensive end. Right now, the NSO group is facing severe legal scrutiny and action in Washington for the use of damaging software. It played a role in hacking into government officials and dissidents across the globe. Additionally, this also accounted for a new hacking blueprint and helped in leading Apple to notify thousands of people who are victims of state-backed hacking.
Based on the events faced by Loujain al-Hathloul, Citizen Lab provided the basis for Apple's lawsuit against NSO in November 2021. Later it was also helpful for US officials to learn about NSO spying on American diplomats around the world. NSO retaliated by stating that it does not operate the hacking tools that it sells. But,“government, law enforcement, and intelligence agencies do”. The spokesperson also added that these claims are mainly“political opponents of cyber intelligence. And are contractually and technologically impossible”. Over the past several months, several revelations by journalists and activists have helped in tieing the spyware industry to human rights violations. However, Loujain al-Hathloul was the first to provide a blueprint of the fearful and dangerous cyberespionage.
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