Salvadoran journalists’ phones hacked with spyware, report finds

Pegasus allows users to steal encrypted messages, photos, contacts, documents and other sensitive information from infected phones without users’ knowledge. (File/AFP)
Pegasus allows users to steal encrypted messages, photos, contacts, documents and other sensitive information from infected phones without users’ knowledge. (File/AFP)
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Updated 13 January 2022

Salvadoran journalists’ phones hacked with spyware, report finds

Pegasus allows users to steal encrypted messages, photos, contacts, documents and other sensitive information from infected phones without users’ knowledge. (File/AFP)
  • Report finds that nearly three dozen Salvadorian journalists had their phone hacked since mid-2020 and implanted by sophisticated spyware, aka Pegasus

SAN SALVADOR: The cell phones of nearly three dozen journalists and activists in El Salvador, several of whom were investigating alleged state corruption, have been hacked since mid-2020 and implanted with sophisticated spyware typically available only to governments and law enforcement, a Canadian research institute said it has found.
The alleged hacks, which came amid an increasingly hostile environment in El Salvador for media and rights organizations under populist President Nayib Bukele, were discovered late last year by The Citizen Lab, which studies spyware at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs. Human-rights group Amnesty International, which collaborated with Citizen Lab on the investigation, says it later confirmed a sample of Citizen Lab’s findings through its own technology arm.
Citizen Lab said it found evidence of incursions on the phones that occurred between July 2020 and November 2021. It said it could not identify who was responsible for deploying the Israeli-designed spyware. Known as Pegasus, the software has been purchased by state actors worldwide, some of whom have used the tool to surveil journalists.
In the El Salvador attack, the heavy focus on editors, reporters and activists working inside that single Central American country points to a local customer with a particular interest in their activities, said Scott-Railton, a senior researcher at Citizen Lab.
“I can’t think of a case where near-exclusive Pegasus targeting in one country didn’t wind up being a user in that country,” Scott-Railton said.
Citizen Lab released a report https://citizenlab.ca/2022/01/project-torogoz-extensive-hacking-media-ci... on its findings on Wednesday.
In a statement to Reuters, Bukele’s communications office said the government of El Salvador was not a client of NSO Group Technologies, the company that developed Pegasus. It said the administration is investigating the alleged hacking and had information that some top administration officials also might have had their phones infiltrated.
“We have indications that we, government officials, are also victims of attacks,” the statement said.
Pegasus allows users to steal encrypted messages, photos, contacts, documents and other sensitive information from infected phones without users’ knowledge. It can also turn handsets into eavesdropping devices by silently activating their cameras and microphones, according to product manuals reviewed by Reuters.
NSO, which has long kept its client list confidential, declined to comment on whether El Salvador was a Pegasus customer. The company said in a statement that it sells its products only to “vetted and legitimate” intelligence and law enforcement agencies to fight crime and that it is not involved in surveillance operations. NSO said it has a “zero-tolerance” policy for misuse of its spyware for activities such as monitoring dissidents, activists and journalists and that it has terminated contracts of some customers who have done so.
Citizen Lab researchers said they began a forensic analysis of the El Salvador phones in September after being contacted by two journalists there who suspected their devices might be compromised.
Researchers said they ultimately found evidence that spyware had been planted on a total of 37 devices belonging to three human-rights groups, six news publications and an independent journalist.
Hardest hit was the online news site El Faro. Citizen Lab researchers said they found telltale tracks of spyware infections on the cell phones of 22 reporters, editors and administrative personnel — more than two-thirds of the company’s staff — and evidence that data had been stolen from many of those devices, including a few that had several gigabytes of material extracted.
El Faro was under constant surveillance during at least 17 months, between June 29, 2020 and November 23, 2021, with the phone of Editor-in-Chief Oscar Martinez infiltrated at least 42 times, Citizen Lab claimed.
“It is hard for me to think or conclude something other than the government of El Salvador” was behind the alleged hacks, Martinez said. “It’s evident that there is a radical interest in understanding what El Faro is doing.”
During the time of the purported infiltrations with Pegasus, El Faro reported extensively on scandals involving Bukele’s government, including allegations that he was negotiating a financial deal with El Salvador’s violent street gangs to reduce the homicide rate to boost popular support for the president’s New Ideas party.
Bukele, who spars frequently with the press, publicly condemned El Faro’s reporting on those purported talks as “ridiculous” and “false information” in a September 3, 2020 Twitter post.
Phone snooping isn’t new to El Salvador, according to Citizen Lab. It alleged in a 2020 report that El Salvador was among at least 25 countries using a bulk surveillance technology made by an Israeli company called Circles. The Circles technology differs from Pegasus in that it vacuums up data from the global phone network instead of planting spyware on specific devices. The report claimed the Circles system had been in operation in El Salvador since 2017.
Circles could not immediately be reached for comment.
Sofia Medina, Bukele’s communications secretary, noted that his administration was not in power in 2017 and claimed, without providing evidence, that the alleged Pegasus attacks appeared to be a continuation of surveillance launched by an unknown “powerful group.”
Citizen Lab’s latest investigation in El Salvador was conducted as a collaboration with digital-rights group Access Now, with investigative assistance from human-rights groups Frontline Defenders, SocialTIC and Fundacion Acceso.


Protect role of ethics in AI future, UAE minister tells Davos

Protect role of ethics in AI future, UAE minister tells Davos
Updated 25 May 2022

Protect role of ethics in AI future, UAE minister tells Davos

Protect role of ethics in AI future, UAE minister tells Davos
  • As a leading country in artificial intelligence, the UAE is working on integrating AI in all sectors of the economy and society

LONDON: The future of the artificial intelligence sector could be threatened by ignorance in decision-making processes, the UAE minister for AI, digital economy and remote work applications has said.

Speaking at a panel session titled “Responsible AI for Societal Gains” at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Wednesday, Omar Sultan Al-Olama said: “We (in the UAE) have signed a strategic agreement with the University of Oxford to send government officials, CTOs and directors to school for an eight-month course to understand what the ethics of AI are, understand good uses of AI and the value of AI.”

He added: “People who are going to be pressing the button on whether to deploy AI or not are people who usually have no idea what ethics mean, what the repercussions are and what the long term implications of these technologies are.”

The session was moderated by Kriss Deiglmeier, chief social impact officer at Splunk.

As a leading country in artificial intelligence, the UAE is working on integrating AI in all sectors of the economy and society.

Al-Olama gave the example of the UAE’s successful vaccine rollout to show how the proper use of AI could produce positive results.

He said that in order to develop AI solutions to problems and improve quality of life, technology should be deployed more often in government “to tailor the government service and make it more proactive rather than reactive.”

Al-Olama stressed the need to form an incentive alignment between all governments to solve problems. “Let’s align the incentives. If we do that, we’re going to have people looking at actual AI solutions that change the world for everyone.”

The panel also featured global AI experts, including Stuart Russell, professor of computer science in UC Berkeley; Joanna Shields, CEO of BenevolentAI; and Vilas Dhar, president and trustee of the Patrick J. McGovern Foundation.


WEF panel discusses what the metaverse is and how it can be regulated

WEF panel discusses what the metaverse is and how it can be regulated
Updated 25 May 2022

WEF panel discusses what the metaverse is and how it can be regulated

WEF panel discusses what the metaverse is and how it can be regulated
  • Three-dimensional, borderless world holds as many opportunities as challenges, Davos forum hears
  • For Meta’s chief product officer Chris Cox, the metaverse is the “next chapter, the next evolution of the internet except it’s the part where it gets less flat”

DAVOS: The metaverse is the new buzzword, but what is it?

Experts at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos convened in a panel titled “Shaping a Shared Future: Making the Metaverse” to discuss what the metaverse is, how to build it and, most importantly, how to regulate it.

For Meta’s chief product officer Chris Cox, the metaverse is the “next chapter, the next evolution of the internet except it’s the part where it gets less flat.” It is a way of describing the internet’s transition into a three-dimensional environment, he said.

On the other hand, “For me, the metaverse was this idea of a place that was somehow simulated on computers that were connected by the internet,” said Philip Rosedale co-founder of High Fidelity and founder of Second Life, a metaverse that allows people to create avatars of themselves and lead a “second life” in the virtual world.

Much of the metaverse’s perception seems to be centered around virtual reality. But, truly, the metaverse is “a seamless integration of your digital and physical worlds,” said Peggy Johnson, CEO of Magic Leap.

That sentiment was echoed by Omar Sultan Al-Olama, Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence, Digital Economy and Remote Work Applications, Office of the Prime Minister of the UAE.

“We can (now) imagine a new paradigm between the virtual and the physical, which is augmented reality and create a bridge that we could never have imagined in the past,” he said.

The metaverse’s ambition to be a borderless, unifying space for people around the world makes it particularly challenging to regulate, given that every country has its own rules.

“There are different types of risks that we need to pay attention to,” said Al-Olama.

Some of the risks relate to financial transactions or scams that exist between the physical and virtual worlds, while others are more extreme, such as violence in the metaverse, which can be even more terrifying than violent content that currently exists in the digital space.

Al-Olama added that there needs to be a nongovernmental body, such as the UN, that sets standards.

Cox agreed, saying: “We’re already managing, as are most internet companies, the reality that you want companies to have their own community standards, but (we) also recognize that that exists in tension with national laws and in some cases, as we’re beginning to see, state laws.”

With most things in life, be it work or university, people receive some sort of orientation. However, that has never been the case with the internet, Al-Olama said.

“There needs to be a way for us to orient people” on how to use the internet, and this should be part of a child’s basic education in every school in the world, he said.

“Certain business models made sense for the internet and social media. For the metaverse, we need to actually take them to the next level.”


MBC Group, BitOasis partner to launch crypto education across MENA

MBC Group, BitOasis partner to launch crypto education across MENA
Updated 25 May 2022

MBC Group, BitOasis partner to launch crypto education across MENA

MBC Group, BitOasis partner to launch crypto education across MENA
  • UAE-based BitOasis has become the region’s largest crypto trading platform, recording over $4 billion in trading volume to date
  • As part of the partnership, BitOasis will launch region-wide crypto education initiatives that will be featured across MBC Group’s portfolio of TV channels and digital platforms

DUBAI: MBC Group has signed a strategic partnership with crypto-asset trading platform and virtual asset service provider BitOasis to drive customer awareness and adoption.

“We’re witnessing the fast speed at which our region is embracing and adopting the blockchain and Web 3 technologies. Seeing as how cryptocurrencies are essential to this ecosystem, we see this partnership as a natural progression as we usher in this new era,” said Fadel Zahreddine, group director of emerging media at MBC Group.

UAE-based BitOasis has become the region’s largest crypto trading platform, recording over $4 billion in trading volume to date. As part of the partnership, BitOasis will launch region-wide crypto education initiatives that will be featured across MBC Group’s portfolio of TV channels and digital platforms.

The MENAT region’s cryptocurrency market grew by 1500 percent between July 2020 and June 2021, according to The Chainalysis 2021 Geography of Cryptocurrency Report. 

“In countries like the UAE and Saudi Arabia, crypto assets are steadily going mainstream due to early adoption by tech-savvy Millennial and Gen Z retail investors, but a massive majority across the region still do not have a good understanding of this emerging asset class,” explained Ola Doudin, CEO and co-founder of BitOasis.

For example, 18 percent of Saudi residents are currently trading in crypto while 21 percent in the UAE intend to invest in it in the next year, according to a YouGov survey.

Doudin said that the company has an “obligation” to address the gap by ramping up efforts “to ensure consumers are aware and educated about investing in crypto across our region whilst offering the simplest and most accessible way to invest.”

“Our goal is to bridge the crypto knowledge gap, and our partnership with MBC will help us realize this goal,” said Srinu Chowhan, vice president of marketing and growth at BitOasis.

He added: “BitOasis’s crypto awareness initiatives will help demystify blockchain and crypto assets, and MBC’s media platforms will play a key role in ensuring this educational content reaches across the region.”  


TikTok partners with INJAZ for its Future Jobs Initiative

TikTok partners with INJAZ for its Future Jobs Initiative
Updated 25 May 2022

TikTok partners with INJAZ for its Future Jobs Initiative

TikTok partners with INJAZ for its Future Jobs Initiative
  • Program aims to prepare young people for jobs in emerging industries

DUBAI: TikTok has partnered with INJAZ, the non-profit organization for education and training in workforce readiness, financial literacy and entrepreneurship across the Arab world.

The partnership, which was launched today, aims to raise awareness of the Future Jobs Initiative program. The collaboration will see TikTok leverage its community to empower the region’s youth by preparing them for future jobs in the fields of artificial intelligence, product development, green economy, and people and culture, among others.

“At TikTok, we aim to help communities thrive and inspire the new generation of entrepreneurs and changemakers to be active and pursue their dreams,” said Talal Al-Fayez, head of public policy, TikTok, Middle East, North Africa and Turkey.

“Through our partnership with INJAZ, we are able to do so in a tangible way by bringing more awareness to the jobs of the future, encouraging youth to explore these growing and lucrative fields,” he added.

The short-form video platform has brought together experts from companies such as Microsoft, McKinsey and MetLife to create a series of informative and easily digestible videos that will be available on TikTok.

These experts will share their personal journeys and insights, aiming to inspire young people to pursue future jobs that are currently growing in demand.

Fifty-one percent of MENA youth feel that they lack the work experience necessary to find employment. Yet, by 2040, an estimated 127 million young Arabs are expected to join the MENA workforce, according to a recent study conducted in collaboration with Oliver Wyman, said Akef Al-Aqrabawi, president and CEO, INJAZ Al-Arab.

The non-profit is “committed to enabling the next generation of entrepreneurs,” and the partnership with TikTok will enable INJAZ “to connect directly with today’s youth, providing them with the knowledge needed to navigate their futures,” he added.


BBC News channel apologizes after calling Manchester United ‘rubbish’

BBC News channel apologizes after calling Manchester United ‘rubbish’
Updated 25 May 2022

BBC News channel apologizes after calling Manchester United ‘rubbish’

BBC News channel apologizes after calling Manchester United ‘rubbish’

DUBAI: The BBC has issued an apology after a message appeared on the news channel’s ticker that read “Manchester United are rubbish.”

The text appeared at the bottom of the screen during a tennis update on Tuesday morning. Later the same day, BBC News presenter Annita McVeigh apologized for the error.

“I hope that Manchester United fans weren’t offended by it,” McVeigh said. She explained that the error occurred because someone behind the scenes was learning how to use the ticker.

“They were just writing random things, not in earnest,” she added.

That does appear to be the case as the ticker also featured the text “Weather rain everywhere.”

The incident and the apology have gone viral on social media, with many users commenting on how the BBC only apologized to the fans and not to the club itself.