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Lebanon lacks infrastructure to carry out phone-hacking espionage, tech expert claims

Eva Galperin, director of cybersecurity with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, poses for a photo at San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco, on Thursday. (AP)
BEIRUT: Lebanon’s security and intelligence bodies have not reacted to deny or confirm information published in a joint report by Lookout mobile security and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which claims Lebanon’s General Directorate of General Security (GDGS) hacked the smartphones of thousands of targeted users around the world.
Dr. Ahmed Maghrabi, a technology and communications expert, told Arab News: “Lebanon has neither the required knowledge nor the technology infrastructure to carry out a worldwide smartphone hacking campaign.”
“EFF, which defends individual freedoms and protects personal online data, is against all forms of online censorship and surveillance, especially generalized ones,” he added. “The foundation is also against the National Security Agency (NSA), which used to carry out mass-surveillance projects that on the people of the United States.”
The report claimed a group of state-backed hackers called Dark Caracal had run more than 10 campaigns for the GDGS since 2012, aimed mainly at Android phone users in at least 21 countries, according to Reuters. The hackers used phishing attacks and “other tricks to lure victims into downloading fake versions of encrypted messaging apps, giving the attackers full control of the devices of unwitting users,” Reuters explained.
“According to EFF, Dark Caracal was affiliated with the government of Kazakhstan and carried out several attacks that targeted Kazakh personalities who opposed Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev,” said Maghrabi. “The foundation believes Dark Caracal is supported by the Kazakh government and uses Kazakhstan’s electronic infrastructure, including the Kazakh cellular network.”
Bruce Schneier, a computer security expert who has a good relationship with EFF, has claimed that the Kazakh government works closely with Russia and has extensive capabilities, a supercomputer, and expertise in artificial intelligence and malicious software programming, which makes the country capable of hacking and spying on smartphones and computers, Maghrabi explained.
“Similar groups act under a North Korean identity or from inside North Korea, but use Chinese electronic tools and specialize in the field of artificial intelligence and supercomputing,” he continued.
“What was described in EFF’s report is an electronic group with hacking and encryption capabilities that can scan computer and smartphone systems and breach their networks, which are owned by very few countries.”
Maghrabi said this was not the first time the EFF has reported on Dark Caracal’s activities: “It did so in 2016 as well. The foundation had reasons to believe a group or some individuals in Lebanon were affiliated with Dark Caracal. In 2016, EFF linked Caracal activities targeting Kazakh opposition to Lebanese General Security, while for the current attack, the foundation mentioned four names of people who are most likely residents of Beirut. It also pointed out that those names could be just one person using four different accounts. Their names are Nancy Jabbour and Hassan Ward, who, according to the report, are most likely one person, as well as Rami Jabbour and Hadi Mazeh. The report could not determine whether they were real people, or nicknames used for different accounts managed by one person.
“The report admits from the outset that it does not have a real sample of those people’s activities, yet it links the four names to the GDGS based on the fact that one of them, Rami Jabbour, lives in the vicinity of the General Security’s building, which is crowded with telecom companies, travel agencies, and banks.”

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