Jeff Bezos’ security consultant, Gavin de Becker, thinks that the Saudi Arabian government hacked into Bezos’ cell phone.1 An entire industry exists which could give a government the ability to hack cell phones and collect information. One such company is Israeli spyware firm NSO Group, a billion dollar company that’s been accused of selling to governments that have allegedly misused it’s technology. Now it’s being accused of providing software for Saudi Arabia’s alleged hacking of Bezos’ cell phone in spite of a screening protocol required before they sell software to foreign governments.
NSO Group’s website acknowledges the vetting process while stressing that their company provides software services designed for government opposition to crime and terrorism.
NSO is not alone, there are several other companies putting advanced spying software into the hands of governments around the world including DarkMatter and Black Cube.
An ethical issue to consider regarding the sale of this type of software to governments is the potential corruptibility of otherwise non-corrupt governments. What if a government purchases spyware technology, initially uses it for investigating crime and then new leaders come to power with corrupt intentions?
On the governance page of NSO Group’s website, it says that the company investigates all credible claims of abuse regarding the usage of their products2 implying the company may be willing to retract its services based on the result of such an investigation.
On DarkMatter’s website it is written that society’s usage of digital technology is not catching up with society’s ability to protect itself. In other words, the digital world is a wild west, an untamed frontier. The company’s website claims its purpose is to help governments and businesses protect themselves in the digital world.3 Thus, their stated security purpose would have to include the protection of persons like Jeff Bezos.
Black Cube’s website says that their team is, “A select group of veterans from the Israeli elite intelligence units that specializes in tailored solutions to complex business and litigation challenges.”4 This statement implies a legal dimension to their corporate purpose. Their website also states that they harvest information from the dark web an informal term which references websites that hide the IP addresses of their host servers5 and is commonly associated with illegal behavior.
What does this story tell us about our own lives?
More and more of our lives take place in the digital realm, and because of cell phones, we can take this digital realm with us where ever we like. According to an article from last year by Nielsen Holdings, in the first quarter of 2018 Americans spent about half of their day consuming some form of electronic media.7
And while this new digital way of life brings great intercultural understanding and the freedom to learn from a wide variety of sources, it has brought many security difficulties along with it. Examples: the digitalization of life has made public humiliation and invasion of privacy easier. Just as with previous innovations new dangers have emerged along with the positive benefits. Fire is warm and romantic in the fireplace, it’s not as good when it’s burning down the house.
Remember, if they can hack Jeff Bezos, someone can come out of the dark web to hack you. Take care.