Saudi dissident sues iPhone spyware firm over Khashoggi communications surveillance

Posted:
in iPhone edited December 6
Following a report in November that the Saudi government retained NSO Group to spy on dissidents, a new lawsuit says the kingdom used iPhone spyware to intercept communications with the slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi.


The late Jamal Khashoggi


The New York Times reported Monday that Omar Abdulaziz, a Saudi dissident based in Montreal, has filed the suit in Israel against the NSO Group, the Israeli firm behind the controversial iPhone spyware tool known as Pegasus.

In the suit, Abdulaziz says that the regime, with the help with NSO Group, obtained communications between himself and Khashoggi, prior to the journalist's murder on October 2. The death, which took place inside the Saudi embassy in Turkey, was reported shortly afterward to have been recorded on Khashoggi's Apple Watch, although those reports have not been fully substantiated.

Khashoggi worked for The Washington Post and resided in the United States.

NSO influence

A next-generation form of spyware developed in Israel, Pegasus has also in the past been the subject of lawsuits by journalists and dissidents who say governments such as those of Mexico and the United Arab Emirates have used the software to spy on them. Especially notable, according to the Times, is that the Israeli government licenses the Pegasus software to other governments, meaning that a new dimension has been added to the unlikely, de facto alliance between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

The software is "licensed for the sole use of providing governments and law enforcement agencies the ability to lawfully fight terrorism and crime," NSO Group told the Times in a statement.

Forbes had reported late last month that the Saudis retained the NSO Group to place its Pegasus spyware on the iPhones of several Saudi dissidents, prior to Khashoggi's murder.

Cybersecurity writer Thomas Brewster reported that the Pegasus software targeted a group of Saudi regime opponents that included a YouTube comedian, political activists, and a human rights activist reported to be in contact with Khashoggi prior to his death. Governments, including Canada's, were said to investigating the hacks. The Canada-based Abdulaziz was among those who went on the record in the Forbes story.

A disgruntled former employee of NSO, earlier this year, was indicted in Israel for attemping to steal the Pegasus source code and sell it on the Dark Web for $50 million in crytocurrency .

Intercepted messages

Also this week, CNN published a cache it obtained of over 400 WhatsApp messages that Khashoggi shared with others, including lawsuit plaintiff Abdulaziz, in the weeks prior to his death. Those are the messages Abdulaziz and others believe were obtained by the regime.

In the messages, the journalist is harshly critical of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whom he refers to as a "beast," and who he compared to the video game character Pac-man.

"The more victims he eats, the more he wants," Khashoggi wrote, in reference to the crown prince, often referred to by his initials MBS.

The CIA believes that MBS personally ordered Khashoggi's death.

MBS and Apple

Apple has various tangential ties with the Saudi regime. Both were initial investors in the world's largest private equity fund, the Saudi Vision Fund, while MBS met with Tim Cook and other Apple executives at Apple Park last April.

Another Saudi prince, Al-Waleed bin Talal, was a major investor in Apple during the second Steve Jobs era, although he is believed to have sold most of his shares over a decade ago.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 24
    nvm
    edited December 6
  • Reply 2 of 24
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 3,701administrator
    And Apple is responsible because.....
    I don't think I understand the question? We're not blaming Apple.

    We covered it, because the saga is news-worthy, and Apple products are central to it.
    edited December 6 gatorguyanantksundaram
  • Reply 3 of 24
    This is exactly why Apple and other OS manufacturers have got to be able to implement the strongest encryption and privacy software possible.  Assuming Kashoggi was using an iPhone along with his Apple Watch there are no known weaknesses, yet somehow a foreign government was able to spy on activity on his device.  Can you imagine what would happen if the bad guys knew there was a deliberate weakness (a backdoor) in the system like Australia is demanding?

    This proves you cannot depend on the benevolence of a government to respect human rights and privacy.  Apple, Google, Microsoft, etc. need to be doing everything technologically possible to ensure nobody can access the information stored on or transmitted to a device without the owners express permission.  I don't care if it is the United States, Saudi Arabia, Russia, or Syria demanding access; no weakness in personal security should be mandated.
    edited December 6 kruegdudemike54davenlibertyforallradarthekatanantksundaram
  • Reply 4 of 24
    And Apple is responsible because.....
    I don't think I understand the question? We're not blaming Apple.

    We covered it, because the saga is news-worthy, and Apple products are central to it.

    Why is this person suing Apple and not the maker of the spyware?

    Edit. Stupid me. I thought they were suing Apple. That’s what I get for posting two minutes after getting out of bed.
    edited December 6 Kuyangkoh
  • Reply 5 of 24
    And Apple is responsible because.....
    I don't think I understand the question? We're not blaming Apple.

    We covered it, because the saga is news-worthy, and Apple products are central to it.

    Why is this person suing Apple and not the maker of the spyware?

    Edit. Stupid me. I thought they were suing Apple. That’s what I get for posting two minutes after getting out of bed.
    Haha, Eric! Made me smile! :)
  • Reply 6 of 24
    Khashoggi was a citizen of Saudi Arabia, not the United States, so he was still subject to their laws. He probably should’ve become a US citizen if he wanted or expected to have the protected rights of an American.
    tbornot
  • Reply 7 of 24
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 3,701administrator
    Khashoggi was a citizen of Saudi Arabia, not the United States, so he was still subject to their laws. He probably should’ve become a US citizen if he wanted or expected to have the protected rights of an American.
    Again, given his work visa status, he is covered under US laws and rights. This story isn't really about that, though.
    edited December 6 fastasleep
  • Reply 8 of 24
    Khashoggi was a citizen of Saudi Arabia, not the United States, so he was still subject to their laws. He probably should’ve become a US citizen if he wanted or expected to have the protected rights of an American.
    Again, given his work visa status, he is covered under US laws and rights. This story isn't really about that, though.
    Those protections only extend to a foreign national while they are in the US. Khashoggi was not in the US when he was killed. The laws of Turkey apply in that instance.
    edited December 6 caladaniananantksundaram
  • Reply 9 of 24
    And Apple is responsible because.....
    I don't think I understand the question? We're not blaming Apple.

    We covered it, because the saga is news-worthy, and Apple products are central to it.

    Why is this person suing Apple and not the maker of the spyware?

    Edit. Stupid me. I thought they were suing Apple. That’s what I get for posting two minutes after getting out of bed.
    Even suing software developer would make no sense. Because, if it did, you could sue car manufacturers for making something that kills tens of thousands of people in the US. Making software, just like making cars is not illegal.
  • Reply 10 of 24
    The reality is one countries legal process is another countries anti-human rights spyware.  The efforts by EU and the US to force Apple to provide backdoors become attack points by Russia, Venezuela, China, Phillipenes, etc., spyware on dissents.  

    This reinforces Apple’s concerns that the “end justifies the means” mentality that permeates justice systems in all countries.  
    78Banditdewmelibertyforall
  • Reply 11 of 24
    gprovida said:
    The reality is one countries legal process is another countries anti-human rights spyware.  The efforts by EU and the US to force Apple to provide backdoors become attack points by Russia, Venezuela, China, Phillipenes, etc., spyware on dissents.  

    This reinforces Apple’s concerns that the “end justifies the means” mentality that permeates justice systems in all countries.  
    That exaclty why owning guns and other means of defending yourself from the corrupt elements that might usurp power within the govt should be illegal.... There is no reason to fear your corrupt govt... And the freedom of speech is not needed either, as it creates instabilities and upsets people.
    /s

    too bad Apple does not support freedom of speech, so it is not in the position to criticize govts suppressing freedoms.
    edited December 6 SpamSandwichlibertyforalltbornot
  • Reply 12 of 24
    gprovida said:
    The reality is one countries legal process is another countries anti-human rights spyware.  The efforts by EU and the US to force Apple to provide backdoors become attack points by Russia, Venezuela, China, Phillipenes, etc., spyware on dissents.  

    This reinforces Apple’s concerns that the “end justifies the means” mentality that permeates justice systems in all countries.  
    That exaclty why owning guns and other means of defending yourself from the corrupt elements that might usurp power within the govt should be illegal.... There is no reason to fear your corrupt govt... And the freedom of speech is not needed either, as it creates instabilities and upsets people.
    /s

    too bad Apple does not support freedom of speech, so it is not in the position to criticize govts suppressing freedoms.

    Bullshit. I can use Safari to visit any website I wish. Even pornography or racist hate-filled sites. No censorship at all on the part of Apple.

    Theres no law that says Apple has to host any content on their privately owned servers/App Store. They are free to restrict content as they see fit.
    anantksundaram
  • Reply 13 of 24
    LatkoLatko Posts: 151member
    I am afraid this court case should be effected  in Turkey where it will have limited chances due to that legislative system.
    Interesting enough to follow closely, though.
    edited December 6
  • Reply 14 of 24
    I smell a rat.
  • Reply 15 of 24
    gprovida said:
    The reality is one countries legal process is another countries anti-human rights spyware.  The efforts by EU and the US to force Apple to provide backdoors become attack points by Russia, Venezuela, China, Phillipenes, etc., spyware on dissents.  

    This reinforces Apple’s concerns that the “end justifies the means” mentality that permeates justice systems in all countries.  
    That exaclty why owning guns and other means of defending yourself from the corrupt elements that might usurp power within the govt should be illegal.... There is no reason to fear your corrupt govt... And the freedom of speech is not needed either, as it creates instabilities and upsets people.
    /s

    too bad Apple does not support freedom of speech, so it is not in the position to criticize govts suppressing freedoms.

    Bullshit. I can use Safari to visit any website I wish. Even pornography or racist hate-filled sites. No censorship at all on the part of Apple.

    Theres no law that says Apple has to host any content on their privately owned servers/App Store. They are free to restrict content as they see fit.
    Ah but Apple does not allow non-Apple App Store apps like you can get on the Mac...  There is some legal challenge about this in progress...  Programming Code is free speech, but Apple does restrict what code can be used on devices they sell...  So one could argue Apple restricts free speech.  
  • Reply 16 of 24
    gprovida said:
    The reality is one countries legal process is another countries anti-human rights spyware.  The efforts by EU and the US to force Apple to provide backdoors become attack points by Russia, Venezuela, China, Phillipenes, etc., spyware on dissents.  

    This reinforces Apple’s concerns that the “end justifies the means” mentality that permeates justice systems in all countries.  
    That exaclty why owning guns and other means of defending yourself from the corrupt elements that might usurp power within the govt should be illegal.... There is no reason to fear your corrupt govt... And the freedom of speech is not needed either, as it creates instabilities and upsets people.
    /s

    too bad Apple does not support freedom of speech, so it is not in the position to criticize govts suppressing freedoms.

    Bullshit. I can use Safari to visit any website I wish. Even pornography or racist hate-filled sites. No censorship at all on the part of Apple.

    Theres no law that says Apple has to host any content on their privately owned servers/App Store. They are free to restrict content as they see fit.
    Ah but Apple does not allow non-Apple App Store apps like you can get on the Mac...  There is some legal challenge about this in progress...  Programming Code is free speech, but Apple does restrict what code can be used on devices they sell...  So one could argue Apple restricts free speech.  
    On the other hand, infringement of one’s protected First Amendment right refers to the Federal government, not private businesses. That’s not something we are taught in school, but then public schools still insist the US is a democracy, which it is not.

    There is no right to own a cell phone (or an iPhone) and there is no right to an app not offered by Apple. Apple isn’t a monopoly, so alternatives are readily available for consumers.
    edited December 6 radarthekatanantksundaram
  • Reply 17 of 24
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 12,637member
    78Bandit said:
    This is exactly why Apple and other OS manufacturers have got to be able to implement the strongest encryption and privacy software possible.  Assuming Kashoggi was using an iPhone along with his Apple Watch there are no known weaknesses, yet somehow a foreign government was able to spy on activity on his device.  Can you imagine what would happen if the bad guys knew there was a deliberate weakness (a backdoor) in the system like Australia is demanding?

    This proves you cannot depend on the benevolence of a government to respect human rights and privacy.  Apple, Google, Microsoft, etc. need to be doing everything technologically possible to ensure nobody can access the information stored on or transmitted to a device without the owners express permission.  I don't care if it is the United States, Saudi Arabia, Russia, or Syria demanding access; no weakness in personal security should be mandated.
    While ideal you need to realize that there will always be weak areas.   In the end it  is the users responsibility to make sure compromising information stays off public networks. The idea that encryption can save you from spying is a huge misunderstanding of reality.   
  • Reply 18 of 24
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 12,637member
    gprovida said:
    The reality is one countries legal process is another countries anti-human rights spyware.  The efforts by EU and the US to force Apple to provide backdoors become attack points by Russia, Venezuela, China, Phillipenes, etc., spyware on dissents.  

    This reinforces Apple’s concerns that the “end justifies the means” mentality that permeates justice systems in all countries.  
    That exaclty why owning guns and other means of defending yourself from the corrupt elements that might usurp power within the govt should be illegal.... There is no reason to fear your corrupt govt... And the freedom of speech is not needed either, as it creates instabilities and upsets people.
    /s

    too bad Apple does not support freedom of speech, so it is not in the position to criticize govts suppressing freedoms.

    Bullshit. I can use Safari to visit any website I wish. Even pornography or racist hate-filled sites. No censorship at all on the part of Apple.

    Theres no law that says Apple has to host any content on their privately owned servers/App Store. They are free to restrict content as they see fit.
    Ah but Apple does not allow non-Apple App Store apps like you can get on the Mac...  There is some legal challenge about this in progress...  Programming Code is free speech, but Apple does restrict what code can be used on devices they sell...  So one could argue Apple restricts free speech.  
    Apple is most certainly anti free speech.  Once you put arbitrary restrictions on what can be had on the App Store and using the word “hate” as ajustification you no longer have free speech.  I fact Apple isn’t any better than many third world dictatorships in this regard.  


    The bigger problem as I see it is that Apples behavior with respect to censorship feeds the wrong elements in society.  Frankly I’m not sure how Apple can be so stupid in this regard but hate flourishes when a we against they division is maintained.   


  • Reply 19 of 24
    gprovida said:
    The reality is one countries legal process is another countries anti-human rights spyware.  The efforts by EU and the US to force Apple to provide backdoors become attack points by Russia, Venezuela, China, Phillipenes, etc., spyware on dissents.  

    This reinforces Apple’s concerns that the “end justifies the means” mentality that permeates justice systems in all countries.  
    That exaclty why owning guns and other means of defending yourself from the corrupt elements that might usurp power within the govt should be illegal.... There is no reason to fear your corrupt govt... And the freedom of speech is not needed either, as it creates instabilities and upsets people.
    /s

    too bad Apple does not support freedom of speech, so it is not in the position to criticize govts suppressing freedoms.

    Bullshit. I can use Safari to visit any website I wish. Even pornography or racist hate-filled sites. No censorship at all on the part of Apple.

    Theres no law that says Apple has to host any content on their privately owned servers/App Store. They are free to restrict content as they see fit.
    Not all hate filled sites... only those that Google will let you find. 

    Apple does not censor internet...because it can’t. As for its walled garden - that is simply not true. They kicked off some “hate” groups, but left other “hate” groups intacts. The difference being - those who were kicked out, did not suit Apple’s ideology, while those who were left in - did. There lies in a double standard that is so prevalent today. So, it is not that Apple does not sensor, because the facts clearly show that they do sensor content. It is just they dont sensor what they cant.... for now. 

    As for privately owned servers...that argument only stands if you admit that Apple does not care about free speech on their platform (which they dont). It is fine if they dont, but they are trying to maintain their position that their platform is open to  free speech. The reality is - it doesnt. 
    Again, nothing wrong with that, but lying about it or misrepresenting it is what gets me. For example Apple kicked out right wingers. Okay. Fine. But then they keep in those who harbor hate against jewish people. Well...guess what -they were not kicked out from the platform. So, all this talk (by Cook) about hate grooups is just empty. 
    edited December 6
  • Reply 20 of 24
    gprovida said:
    The reality is one countries legal process is another countries anti-human rights spyware.  The efforts by EU and the US to force Apple to provide backdoors become attack points by Russia, Venezuela, China, Phillipenes, etc., spyware on dissents.  

    This reinforces Apple’s concerns that the “end justifies the means” mentality that permeates justice systems in all countries.  
    That exaclty why owning guns and other means of defending yourself from the corrupt elements that might usurp power within the govt should be illegal.... There is no reason to fear your corrupt govt... And the freedom of speech is not needed either, as it creates instabilities and upsets people.
    /s

    too bad Apple does not support freedom of speech, so it is not in the position to criticize govts suppressing freedoms.

    Bullshit. I can use Safari to visit any website I wish. Even pornography or racist hate-filled sites. No censorship at all on the part of Apple.

    Theres no law that says Apple has to host any content on their privately owned servers/App Store. They are free to restrict content as they see fit.
    It does make me shake my head sometimes, though. One of my favourite scenes in a Family Guy episode is a squirrel flipping off a dog stuck inside the house. On the DVD, we see the squirrel giving him the finger. The version I bought on the iTunes store has the squirrel's hand blurred out. It's unnecessary and utterly neuters the joke. What's next, Blockbuster-style movie censoring?
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