Imagine being monitored at every moment of your life. Every little thing you said at work. The fight you had with your wife about what to have for dinner. The inspiring speech you gave to your son over the reality of the current world. Everything recorded.
Does it give you an unpleasant feeling?
Many people might be under the impression that this scenario is purely fictional. But recent news shows the reality.
It is the name for perhaps the most powerful piece of spyware ever developed – certainly by a private company. Once it has wormed its way on to your phone, without you noticing, it can turn it into a 24-hour surveillance device. It can copy messages you send or receive, harvest your photos and record your calls. It might secretly film you through your phone’s camera, or activate the microphone to record your conversations. It can potentially pinpoint where you are, where you’ve been, and who you’ve met.
Pegasus is the hacking software – or spyware – that is developed, marketed and licensed to governments around the world by the Israeli company NSO Group. It has the capability to infect billions of phones running either iOS or Android operating systems.
Do these people think of themselves as God? Do they believe they have the right to monitor all of humanity at all times?
“In 2019, when NSO Group was facing intense scrutiny, new investors in the Israeli surveillance company were on a PR offensive to reassure human rights groups.
In an exchange of public letters in 2019, they told Amnesty International and other activists that they would do “whatever is necessary” to ensure NSO’s weapons-grade software would only be used to fight crime and terrorism. […]
Based in Herzliya, NSO Group has come a long way in a short period. The name is derived from the initials of the men who launched it: the friends Niv Carmi, Shalev Hulio and Omri Lavie.
Hulio, who served in the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), has said the idea for the company came after he and Lavie received a phone call from a European intelligence service, which had learned the pair had the know-how to access people’s phones.
“Why aren’t you using this to collect intelligence?” the agency is said to have asked.
The proliferation of smartphones and encrypted communications technology, from Signal to WhatsApp and Telegram, meant intelligence and law enforcement agencies had gone “dark”, unable to monitor the activities of terrorists, paedophiles and other criminals.”
Because of the high prospects that this software allows, many countries spent a high amount of money to obtain it. UAE, Saudi, Mexico and many other states are reported to have used the spying device.
So far, it seems like Pegasus Project has been mainly used against journalists. Al Jazeera, CNN, The Wall Street Journal, French journalist Edwy Plenel, and others were found in the software database.
Officials and politicians all over the world have been targeted as well.
This incident even showed proofs of allied countries spying on their partners.
Here are the dire consequences when you don’t base your society on taqwa and steadfastness.
The modern world in current year is a scary place.
Crucial parts and circuits within semiconductor chips used by Apple and Android phones are designed in Israel. This allows them to build in features that do not rely on software to hack in. Doesn’t matter how good of a job any of these companies do developing anti hacking software, the vulnerabilities are baked into hardware at the deepest levels.
There is only one solution. We Muslims should create all our own technologies:from processors like:intel,amd, macintosh to social medias like:facebook, instagram youtube and twitter. There is no other way. We should start our golden age again, like our ancestors did it in the middle centuries.
Ideally, of course we should! But it’s not realistic to tell somebody that they shouldn’t use any computers or smartphones at all unless they are completely verified or produced by Muslims. We need pragmatic solutions, and there are many good things that one can do right now to improve privacy.
I study tech, let me explain things for you. Because it’s normal to be scared of the unknown (which is what Israeli propagandists are cashing in on), and therefore I see it as my duty to enlighten fellow Muslims on these issues.
This is not strange at all. A smartphone is technically capable of doing all that and more. It is equipped with a GPS, at least two cameras, several microphones, an accelerometer, and possibly more sensors. It is also connected to the internet 24/7. But what makes things this bad are two things.
– You have no control over the software that is running on the phone that controls all of these sensors. Meaning, at any time, these sensors can technically be turned on and used against you.
– You cannot reliably turn the sensors off. Yes, you can “shut the phone down”, but there is no way for you to know that everything is really off. You can’t remove the battery, as you could with older phones, that would require you to disassemble the phone, remove the glue that’s holding the battery in place and unplug it. That’s highly inconvenient.
At all times, you are at the mercy of Apple, Google, the US government or the Chinese government (if you use Huawei). But it is unlikely that these entities would use these capabilities against you unless you are a very high-profile target. If they would frequently launch secret campaigns of espionage against people, they would eventually fall into a trap and get found out, it would be a PR disaster for them. The way these entities spy on you is by doing so in the open. For example, by sneakily enabling cloud sync and uploading all your photos/contacts/documents to their servers in the name of making your life more “convenient”. They spy on you openly, and with an excuse.
So let’s say you turn on all the privacy options and turn off all the ways for them to steal your data in the open. Just a side-note, that isn’t entirely possible. A reason for that is that the modem in your phone that connects to the phone towers allows these towers to get your location, that’s how this technology works. It’s unavoidable unless you maybe turn on Airplane mode, but then you can’t make calls. But let’s say for argument’s sake that you manage to stop ALL leakage of data. What are we left with? We are left with malware/spyware that use bugs or programming errors in the software that’s running on your phone to hijack it and possibly turn on these sensors. Most software has imperfections, bugs, errors, because software is usually complex and humans are imperfect and sometimes lazy or our knowledge is too finite for us to create something perfect. That’s just life, it’s not necessarily done out of malice, although in rare occasions it is.
The software on your phone is very complex, this is even for something like the Safari browser, which has been exploited before to gain FULL access over the system. However, Apple do patch many bugs frequently, and these serious bugs tend to be less frequent than they were maybe 10 years ago. Regardless, they do still exist, and there are anonymous buyers out there who are willing to pay millions of dollars to anyone who can find such an exploit that is effective today. Guess who has a lot of shekels laying around to invest? That’s right, Israel. Israel can just announce, by proxy, a bounty to any one who can find them an exploit and then use it for one of their Kocher businesses and give it a name (Pegasus), and a Star of David stamp. Then the media, after ignoring the dangers of smartphones for 15 years, can tell everyone indirectly that Israel is God and can see and hear everyone.
The fact of the matter is that smartphones as they are built today, are dangerous, and have been so before these spywares were ever created. The likelihood that they are used against you in complete secret is small though, as I’ve outlined above. But still, it’s good to be cautious, especially when it comes to things that are sensitive, like sensitive conversations or our sharaf. We should all remove dependence on these devices in our lives as much as we can until we gain control over them (at a software and hardware level). Here are some steps that you can take to protect yourself more:
– Turn on all privacy options you can find. Turn off cloud sync, data collection. Only enable GPS/contact permissions for apps when absolutely necessary.
– Learn to use fewer apps. If you normally like to read the Quran on your smartphone, try purchasing a physical Quran book instead. If you normally like to take notes in the Notes app, do so in a physical Notebook instead. And so on…
– If you use your phone for communication with friends and family, download Signal and ask the people in your personal circle to do the same. Avoid WhatsApp and regular phone-services as much as possible.
– Keep the smartphone away from the bedroom. Keep it away from when you are changing your clothes. Don’t take it into the bathroom with you. Etc.
– Don’t take your smartphone out with you when you don’t have to, because phone towers DO track you when your phone is not in Airplane mode.
– Keep iOS or Android up-to-date, because bugs (that are more or less serious) are found and fixed regularly.
Treat your smartphone as a stranger that’s watching you, not because it’s actually doing so in you particular case, but because it has the potential to do so. Try to limit its use, and don’t let it be a bigger part of your life than it has to be.
In the future we need phones like Librem Phone, that are designed with privacy in mind, and have things like hardware kill-switches for cameras, microphones, the modem etc. The ones that are out right now are unfortunately very niche, and they are worse in many aspects than your regular locked down iPhone or Android phone. These things take time to develop and large investments, I hope Muslims who have the knowledge and the will, get on board and start contributing so that everyone can have a better future with less surveillance with less power-imbalances.
In the end, Allah is the one who sees everything, hears everything, controls everything and has the power over us and our enemies. It’s him we should truly fear, and it’s him we should seek help from to give us strength, freedom and independence.
Just to emphasize. The odds that your smartphone is secretly opening up your camera or microphone, or stealing your data without some sync service being on is likely very small if you’re not a high-profile target.
I do not want to overestimate the threat, nor do I want to underestimate it. I’m not in the position to suggest for you personally what threat-model you should follow. But generally speaking I think it’s good to stay safer when we can, and eliminate attack-vectors wherever possible. It’s sort of like treating all guns as loaded. Of course they are not all loaded, but you would treat them as such for safety anyway. Same thing applies to having on seat-belt. Etc. It’s about building good habits to avoid very harmful but unlikely outcomes.