4 August 2021

The Virus

What I see, when I look at the John Hopkins site, is that this Delta variant causes a big rise in infections, in the countries where it becomes prominent, and then there is either stabilization or a fall-off. That's true even in countries like India, where the majority of the population remains unvaccinated. I expect that will happen here in Israel too. But I think we are going to be living with this virus for a long time; and there may even be worse variants. But, of course, if a disease kills too many people, it also hurts its own ability to propagate.

White grub beetles

Last night I woke up and decided to make myself a cup of tea, in which I discovered one of those pesky brown bugs of the season. Every summer we have a spate of these, which are called locally "khomeinim". I had no idea of the formal name, so I spent a considerable time trying to find out who and what they are.

It turns out that the formal name is Maladera insabalis. They were first observed and classified by entomologists in northern India, in 1894. They reached Israel in 1983, probably coming with the import of pistachio nuts originating in Iran. They quickly spread here as they have no natural enemies. As grubs, they feed on the roots of plants like sweet potatoes. As beetles, they eat foliage of citrus and other fruit trees, so they are regarded as a dangerous agricultural pest. But for those of us who are not farmers, they are a bothersome insect, as they tend to come by the thousand, and are attracted to house lights. They get inside homes through the smallest aperture and generally make a nuisance of themselves, once they are in. They don't bite and are quite harmless unless they happen to crawl inside one's ears. They are known to produce a bad odor when stepped upon. The bad smell is also present when they are vacuumed up. When they first emerged in Israel, someone thought they were a new species, so he gave them the name Maladera matrida. "Matrida" is a Hebrew word meaning bothersome. But it later emerged that they had been discovered almost a century earlier.

They are a cousin of the Japanese beetle, the colorful pest that I recall from the US (they defoliate vegetables and garden plants). But, as far as I remember, the latter are less annoying than these brown bugs and less likely to get inside.

Links

Talks 'constructive', India & China say remaining issues to be resolved in expeditious manner - The Print

But I just read that India is sending warships into the South China Sea. That doesn't sound like the thing to do if they want those talks to go well.

Why is China smashing its tech industry? - Noahpinion

Fascinating.

Belarus exile group leader Vitaly Shishov found dead in Kyiv, police say - The Guardian

Shishov’s disappearance came as the Belarusian athlete Krystsina Tsimanouskaya said she was forced to withdraw from the Tokyo Olympics and threatened with forced repatriation for criticising her athletics federation on social media.

‘Emergency meeting’: Israeli cyberarms firms scramble after NSO scandal - Haaretz.com

The hacking of Indian democracy - The Hindu

an inquiry at the highest level under the supervision of the judiciary is a constitutional necessity. If this does not take place, India will cease to call itself a democracy.

Pegasus: Why Americans should be alarmed by the spyware controversy in India - Scroll

The destruction of Indian democratic institutions under Narendra Modi since he came to power in 2014 is well documented. If these new allegations are left unaddressed, which is the most likely outcome, their chilling effect on society will ensure India’s swift decline into a sham democracy like Russia.

Pegasus spyware found on journalists’ phones, French intelligence confirms - The Guardian

UN health agency wants Israel, others to stop COVID booster shot campaign - Haaretz.com

WHO officials say the science is unproven about whether giving booster shots to people who have already received two vaccine doses is effective in preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

“We call on everyone with influence – Olympic athletes, investors, business leaders, faith leaders and every individual in their own family and community – to support our call for a moratorium on booster shots until at least the end of September,” Tedros said.

27 July 2021

In the "Middle East"

“Middle East”, (like the previous favourite, “Near East” as well as “Far East”) is a contemptible name that expresses the Eurocentric outlook of those who coined it. In that sense, it resembles the American word "Midwest". (If Los Angeles was the capital, maybe Chicago would be in the Mideast, like Cairo.)

West(ern) Asia is a better term, and is what people in other parts of Asia usually call it. Though perhaps people who live in parts of Siberia and Kazakhstan may object, and "South West Asia" would serve us better.

Then there is a question of whether there is justification for terms like MENA (Middle East - North Africa) or WANA (West Asia - North Africa). When one looks at the definition given to MENA by various UN agencies Wikipedia, we can see that Palestine is usually included, whereas Israel is more often excluded, though the rationale is usually economic. A UN agency or any world body, naturally has the prerogative to lump nations together in its programmes in whatever way it finds useful.

There is also the term, “the Arab world”, which usually means countries that are part of the Arab League. It does not include some countries that are usually included under MENA or WANA, such as Turkey and Iran, and also leaves out countries where Arabic is an official language like Israel, Somalia, Chad and Eritrea. But somehow, it seems more correct for example, to lump Tunisia together with Lebanon in "the Arab world", than to place them together in something called MENA or WANA. The latter pretend to be geographical terms, but are actually contrived, when the meaning is cultural rather than geographic.

Arab?

Arab is a linguistic or cultural definition, pretending to be an ethnic definition. In the Bible, there is hardly any mention of Arabs. At that time, individual tribes, like Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, were referenced. A Berber living in Southern Libya has little to do with a Marsh Arab in Southern Iraq. The two will find it difficult to converse, and are both genetically and culturally distinct. But they still have enough in common to be classified together as Arabs.

Jew?

Jew, as a definition is even worse than Arab. Arabs at least share a common language and broadly, a common culture. Jews can renounce all religious faith, but still remain Jewish. They can live in the Amazonas or China, have any concoction of genes, or speak any language on earth, but, as long as they claim some distant Jewish ancestry, they will be warmly accepted into the Jewish fold. And if a Jew comes to Israel from a family that has lived for a thousand years in Morocco, looks like a Berber and speaks Arabic, as soon as she comes to Israel she will instantly be regarded as a Jew, and not, heaven forbid, as an Arab.

American exceptionalism

Dave Winer: Something they don’t teach us in school in my country is that when we pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, we are really pledging allegiance to each other. Because that’s all there is, the people. No dear leader, no state church, just us.

Naive?

Pegasus

I'm on the free list for “Continuing Ed” so receive his missals every couple of days. The latest one, The Insecurity Industry - by Edward Snowden - Continuing Ed — with Edward Snowden is powerfully and persuasively written.

Where Netanyahu went, NSO followed: How Israel pushed cyberweapon sales - Haaretz.com

Paywall alert, though much quoted article.

Democrats call for possible action against NSO over Pegasus revelations - The Guardian

Four Democrats in Congress tell Biden administration that such firms ‘should be sanctioned, and if necessary, shut down’
Democratic lawmakers in Washington have called on the Biden administration to consider placing NSO Group on an export blacklist and said recent revelations of misuse reinforced their conviction that the “hacking-for-hire industry must be brought under control”.

Pegasus | How to find out if your phone was infected with the spyware - The Hindu

Mobile Verification Toolkit works on both iOS and Android OS. It simplifies the process of acquiring and analysing data from Android devices, and analyses records from iOS backups and filesystem dumps to identify potential traces of compromise.

India

Explained | Pegasus and the laws on surveillance in India - The Hindu

Mr. Gupta is of the opinion that the use of Pegasus is illegal as it constitutes unauthorised access under Section 66 of the Information Technology Act.

Section 66 prescribes punishment to anyone who gains unauthorised access to computers and “downloads, copies or extracts any data”, or “introduces or causes to be introduced any computer contaminant or computer virus,” as laid down in Section 43.

Are India’s laws on surveillance a threat to privacy? - The Hindu
Lengthy article; saving the link.

After meet with Modi, Mamata says PM should call all-party meet on Pegasus row, wants SC probe - The Print

6 Assam policemen killed in border clash with Mizoram - The Hindu

These are two Indian states!

Tunisia president accused of staging coup after suspending parliament - The Guardian

Tunisia’s president imposes month-long curfew and bans gatherings - The Guardian

Tunisians will wake on Tuesday to draconian restrictions including a nationwide curfew from 7pm to 6am, and a ban on gatherings of more than three people in public places.

Billionaire tycoon named as Lebanese PM as economic crisis bites - The Guardian

As Lebanon has crumbled, its leaders have faced a growing threat of sanctions from France and the EU. European leaders do not see the return of Miqati as the breakthrough that was demanded. However, senior officials said they would reserve judgment until Miqati named a ministerial line-up.

I'll bet China will step in.

Doyen of particle physics Steven Weinberg passes away - The Hindu
I thought this was interesting:

Prof. Weinberg was a rationalist and spoke against irrational anti-science ideas without hesitation. He wrote the book Facing Up: Science and its Cultural Adversaries, exposing the harm done by irrational and religious ideas. In now, oft-quoted remarks, he said: “With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil — that takes religion. Religion is an insult to human dignity. Without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things”.

He was a self-declared atheist and firmly committed to science and expressed his view on religion and God fearlessly: “Science does not make it impossible to believe in God, it just makes it possible not to believe in God.”

24 July 2021

Bitter melons

There's a funny story in The Guardian about courgette poisoning. Apparently ordinary zuccinis can, if they happen to cross-pollinate with wild members of the same family, become poisonous, causing stomach cramps, vomiting, internal bleeding, hair loss, death (though the latter is quite rare). Tim Dowling says "Now I’ve experienced this poisoning first-hand, it seems weird to me that people are even allowed to grow courgettes."

The gustatory sign of such poison is bitterness. All members of the Cucurbitaceae family, including cucumbers, gourds, melons, etc. contain cucurbitacins, which are responsible for such poisoning, as a self defence mechanism, but usually, in the edible varieties, the amount is very small.

But then I remembered that in India they often use a vegetable (botanically a fruit) called bitter gourd (in Hindi, karela), so looked this up on the web. Apparently it has long been popular not only in India but in China (a slightly different variety) and South East Asia. When I find it on my plate, I move it to one side, because, like most Westerners, I hate bitter tastes. Humans in general are conditioned to avoid such flavors, since they are usually a warning of a potential poison.

Besides karela, there is another bitter gourd, the bottle gourd (lauki in Hindi), which is consumed. Both of these foods are reputed to have amazing therapeutic properties and health effects. Yet an Indian scientist died after consuming lauki juice, prompting articles like: Bitter bottle gourd (Lagenaria siceraria): Healer or killer? in the International Journal of Nutrition, Pharmacology and Neurological Diseases:

In a recent magazine, an article reported the death of a well-known scientist of Delhi, who consumed fresh juice of bitter bottle gourd. [6] Similar cases were also reported at Dehradun, Mehasana, other parts of India, and the globe. An article in a leading journal reports of fifteen such cases. [7]

The above-mentioned patients developed severe hematemesis, dizziness, and sweating, and collapsed. However, timely management saved some of them. [7],[8],[9]

Bottle gourd, which belongs to the cucumber family (Cucurbitaceae) can also turn toxic and dangerous like mushrooms. Cucurbitacins are complex compounds found in plants belonging to the Cucurbitaceae family. The tetracyclic triterpenoid Cucurbitacin compounds are responsible for the bitterness in vegetables like cucumber, squash, eggplants, melon, pumpkin, and gourds.

High levels of Cucurbitacin compounds are triggered by high temperature, wide temperature swings, low pH, very little water, low soil fertility, and also due to improper storage of vegetables or over-matured vegetables. These compounds are highly toxic to mammals. These toxins, when absorbed into the blood could cause hepatitis, pancreatitis, cholecystitis, and renal damage. This in turn can lead to multiorgan dysfunction, which could be fatal. [4],[6],[7],[8],[9]

It is advisable to consume cooked bottle gourd. Once cooked, the bottle gourd becomes harmless, offering health benefits. A small piece of bottle gourd should be tasted (from both ends); to make sure that it is not bitter. Bitter bottle gourd should be discarded and not be used even after cooking.

An article about a related foodstuff in India, the bottle gourd, has the following:
GREEN POISON? - Indian Express:

It is commonly believed that bitterness is nature's protection for mammals from natural toxins in vegetables and fruits. However, bitterness needs to be qualified. A certain amount of bitterness in vegetables like karela (bitter gourd), fenugreek or the cucumber family (cucumber, squash, eggplants, melon, pumpkin and gourds) is normal and we are all accustomed to it. Tetracyclic triterpenoid cucurbitacins, complex compounds found in the cucumber family, are responsible for the bitterness in these vegetables. These are highly toxic to mammals, however, at what levels are they toxic need to be established. Higher levels of these chemicals are triggered by wide temperature swings, low pH, high temperature, too little water, low soil fertility and improperly stored or over-matured vegetables.

Where they are consumed, bitter vegetables like karela and lauki are apparently appreciated, and people apparently grow used to their bitter taste. So the question should probably be what level of bitterness is a sign that we should stay away from them? To me, karela already tastes awfully bitter - I cannot bear it. So the problem is solved for me.

Links

Rwandans have long been used to Pegasus-style surveillance - The Guardian

Former intelligence chief and RNC co-founder Kayumba Nyamwasa – who has survived repeated attempts on his life in South Africa – notes that the RPF has enjoyed extremely close military and intelligence ties with Israel since the genocide, and that the line between Israel’s military and spin-off firms selling intelligence equipment is distinctly blurred.

Israel has a history of cozying up to repressive regimes and selling them weapons. Maybe in the early years of the state, it felt a need to cultivate such connections. One would think that by now it could allow itself to be more discerning in choosing its customers - if it cares at all. But then, the same arguments could be made against selling weapons technology to Israel.

Russia names Bellingcat reporting partner a ‘foreign agent’ - The Guardian

Delta variant: Pfizer Covid vaccine 39% effective in Israel, prevents severe illness - CNBC

23 July 2021

Yesterday we went to a musical retrospective, "Broken Prayer" on Leonard Cohen, held outdoors in the nearby town of Nataf. The atmosphere, under an almost-full moon, was wonderful, and the musicians (Avraham Cohen, Bat Hen Edri are the names that I remember) were good. They offered some interpretations and original compositions of their own, besides the well-known songs. Their rendition of the latter was sometimes flawed, notwithstanding, and there were some technical problems, but this did not affect our enjoyment. Their topic was Cohen's "continual dialogue with the Creator." They managed to bring to the forefront, some of Cohen's roots in traditional Jewish liturgical songs, etc.

Who cannot love Leonard Cohen and his peculiar mix of existential questioning and sensuality? But the audience were mostly older people of around our age; younger people are often completely unaware of him, which is a pity, because he brought something unique, precious and magical to his music.

Links and reflections

Covid-19 antibodies detected in 67% of India’s population - The Guardian

The US, the other day, removed India from its red list of countries, whereas Israel has kept it there. Although I had been thinking that it is either "political" or quite arbitrary that Israel has kept India on its red list, while placing the UK, for example, on its orange list, in light of these statistics, the Israelis probably have understood the situation better.

Parliament proceedings | No deaths reported due to lack of oxygen, Health Ministry tells Rajya Sabha - The Hindu

According to various reports in Indian media, no one believes him.


In 2019, IT House panel unsuccessfully tried to probe Pegasus breach - The Hindu

This is also true today.:

Centre Rejects Demand for Probe Into Snooping Allegations, IT Minister Calls Reports 'Over the Top' - The Wire

The BJP has been trying to use senior leaders including multiple party chief minister to try and change the narrative. As The Wire has reported, these leaders made wild claims about how these revelations are some sort of “international conspiracy” to “defame India”. However, none of them have categorically denied that the Indian government paid for Pegasus spyware.

Instead, they are saying:

Ban Amnesty over Pegasus leaks role... - The Guardian

Mamata Banerjee, the chief minister of West Bengal who recently defeated the BJP in state elections, urged the opposition parties of India to unite to challenge the “surveillance state” of the Modi government, and called Pegasus “dangerous” and “ferocious”.

“Three things make democracy: media, judiciary and the Election Commission – and Pegasus has captured all three,” said Banerjee, whose own nephew’s phone number was on the leaked data list.


India tax authorities raid media companies critical of Modi gov’t - Al Jazeera

Modi’s government has long been accused of attempting to stifle critical reporting in the world’s biggest democracy, something it denies. On Reporters Without Borders’ 2021 Press Freedom Index, India ranks 142nd out of 180 countries

Why India's Process for Authorising Surveillance on Citizens Is Deeply Flawed - The Wire

The alleged use Pegasus is only the latest example of how government has trampled on the individual rights of citizens using the excuse of fighting terrorism.

What this Wire story points out is that although the BJP has been more more brazen, earlier ruling parties have used the same tactics, and similarly surveilled their adversaries.

Likewise, Indian sensitivity towards outside criticism has a long history. India is not exceptional in that. Many countries bristle at criticism and “interference” from outside. Israel is a very good example - for example the current furor over Ben & Jerry's decision not to allow sales of its products in Israeli West Bank settlements.

The grain of truth in such sensitivity is that outsiders really do have a hard time understanding the complexities of any country's internal processes and needs. We can see how our outsider assumptions worked for us in the case of Burma. Aung San Suu Ki is probably the same person, the same politician, when she is at the mercy of the generals or at the head of the government. But at one time she is the world's darling and in the next moment maligned as a cruel oppressor of minorities (although she has been locked up for a second time, the world's reaction has been more muted this time).

When our outsider dreams for a given country come true, we are often disappointed that the long hoped-for happy end eludes us, and other problems that we didn't anticipate or had zero knowledge of, rear their ugly heads.

While staying true to our values, we also need to take time to understand complexity, and always maintain an attitude of humility, with relation to our comprehension of the situation in other countries. The knowledge and experience that we bring from our own home environment is not necessarily relevant to other places.

Telegram founder listed in leaked Pegasus project data - The Guardian

In his blog, on Telegram itself, Durov says a couple of interesting things:
He claims that Pegasus takes advantage of the same, or similar backdoors that Apple and Google deliberately built in their system, based on demands of the US government:

According to the Snowden revelations (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_surveillance_disclosures_(2013%E2%80%93present)) from 2013, both Apple and Google are part of the global surveillance program that implies that these companies have to, among other things, implement backdoors into their mobile operating systems. These backdoors, usually disguised as security bugs, allow US agencies to access information on any smartphone in the world.

The problem with such backdoors is that they are never exclusive to just one party. Anybody can exploit them. So if a US security agency can hack an iOS or Android phone, any other organization that uncovers these backdoors can do the same. Unsurprisingly, this is exactly what has been taking place: an Israeli company called NSO Group (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jul/18/revealed-leak-uncovers-global-abuse-of-cyber-surveillance-weapon-nso-group-pegasus) has been selling access to the spying tools that allowed third parties to hack tens of thousands of phones.

That's why I have been calling upon the governments of the world to start acting against the Apple-Google duopoly in the smartphone market and to force them to open their closed ecosystems and allow for more competition.

Regardless of the so-called security of his messaging system, phones can never be trusted. He himself doesn't trust his phone:

Since at least 2018, I have been aware that one of my phone numbers was included in a list of potential targets of such surveillance tools (although a source from the NSO Group denies it). Personally, I wasn't worried: since 2011, when I was still living in Russia, I’ve got used to assuming that all my phones were compromised.

That kind of makes comparisons of the relative security of Telegram, Signal and WhatsApp, a bit redundant.


Israel launches commission to probe Pegasus spyware: Legislator - Al Jazeera

Israel's cyber-security industry is a lucrative cash cow, and much bigger and more important than any single company. When Israel takes action on such things, it is more likely to be motivated by public relations concerns than by a genuine wish to rectify the situation.

20 July 2021

We are living in a dystopian hellscape where democratic freedoms, institutions, politicians, governments, civil society and basic infrastructure are all under unremitting attack. A kind of high-tech warfare is being waged by state actors both against other nations and their own citizens. No one is safe. Off-gridders seem to be right: the less dependence we have on technology, infrastructure and systems of distribution, the better. But Edward Snowden is even more right in saying that the problems cannot be solved at an individual level. If we want something to change, people need to get together and take action.

National governments, leaders and ruling parties, when censured, try to deflect criticism by denial, claims of partisanism, or foreign bias. Thus, the BJP in India, says that Amnesty International, which conducted the forensic analysis of phones for Pegasus spyware, is "anti-Indian", and that the Congress Party is angry because they are losing. China and Russia angrily deny being responsible for cyber-attacks. Israel denies conducting diplomacy through cyber-weapon sales.

As citizens of the planet, we have to recognize that the issues we are facing are common to all of us. Our adversaries are not particular parties, polities or nations, but the misuse of power, by any group, in order to undermine democratic freedoms, civil society, and the systems upon which we rely. We need to oppose the misuse of power even when it is not our own group that is under attack, because there can only be democracy when the rights of all citizens are respected and protected. There can only be peace between nations when the welfare of all nations is our common goal.

Links

The Guardian view on spyware sales: the proliferation risks are real - The Guardian

Revealed: murdered journalist’s number selected by Mexican NSO client - The Guardian

India

Pegasus spyware used to ‘snoop’ on Indian journalists, activists - The Hindu

17 media groups across world collaborated to expose secret surveillance via victims’ phones
Indian ministers, government officials and opposition leaders also figure in the list of people whose phones may have been compromised by the spyware, The Wire, which conducted the investigation along with international partners, claimed.

Modi accused of treason by opposition over India spyware disclosures - The Guardian

“This is clearly treason and total abdication of national security by the Modi government, more so when the foreign company could possibly have access to this data,” said the Congress statement, which labelled Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) government as the “Bharatiya Jasoos [spy] party”.

“This is an unforgivable sacrilege and negation of constitutional oath by the home minister and the prime minister,” it added.

“Pegasus is a cyber-weapon, a controlled defence export from Israel under 2007 Act as per Wassenaar [Arrangement], with strict EUMA,” said Sushant Singh, an Indian journalist whose phone was examined by Amnesty’s Security Lab, the technical partner to the project.
It found proof that his phone had been compromised using Pegasus. “That [weapon] has been used in India against its own citizens,” he said. “Imagine if a fighter jet or missile of same category was used against Indians similarly. That’s it.”

Prashant Kishor Hacked by Pegasus, Mamata’s Nephew Also Selected as Potential Snoop Target

This is the first iron-clad piece of evidence that the deadly spyware is being used in India by an as yet unidentified agency to gather political information from rivals of the ruling BJP.

Leaked Snoop List Suggests Surveillance May Have Played Role in Toppling of Karnataka Govt in 2019 - The Wire

Regional Newspapers Have More Detailed Coverage of Pegasus Than National, Business Dailies - The Wire

Most English newspapers, including Hindustan Times and Mint covered the news report as a single column on their front pages. The Economic Times – India’s largest business daily – published the report on page 3. The Times of India, The Financial Express and Indian Express carried the story as the lead on their front flap/pages. The Telegraph carried it as lead on page 2, headlined “Judge and ministers on ‘hack wish list'”. Business Standard has not carried the report, but they have published a PTI copy on their website. The Hindu decided not to give it space on the front page, and carried the story on page 8 in a double column.
Most of the news stories didn’t have any infographics. When covering Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcements or other government-related reports, they usually do use graphics and other visual aids.

Sedition and the Supreme Court: Justice Delayed, but Not Justice Denied - The Wire

The almost simultaneous entertainment by three benches of the Supreme Court of petitions seeking declarations that Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code is unconstitutional indicates that the apex court finally realises that sedition is a draconian provision and needs to be done away with.

It is welcome because if the petitions succeed, a colonial provision designed to crush nonviolent social movements against the British Crown, which is now being used to suppress democratic dissent in an independent country, will go, making prosecutions for free speech difficult. Thousands, including the CAA protestors and the tribal supporters of the Patthalgadi movement, journalists, artists, farmers, trade unionists, students and others will have the yoke of this oppressive provision lifted.

Let us hope that the Supreme Court will now take up with alacrity the other provisions of law such as criminal defamation and the infamous Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, which deserve to be put in the dustbin of history. Before that is done, however, judges have to introspect on the tolerance of tyranny, which is so prevalent in our country.

'Similarities Between Hitler's Third Reich and Modi's India Growing Everyday': Avay Shukla - The Wire

India's working women: It has taken a pandemic and remote work to crack the glass ceiling - CNN

The coronavirus pandemic appears to have given an unexpected boost to a small — but influential — cohort of India's working women.

Coronavirus live news: 4 million excess deaths in India, study suggests, as official Covid toll passes 414,000 - The Guardian

China

China drafts new cyber-security industry plan - The Hindu

US condemns China for ‘malicious’ cyberattacks, including Microsoft hack - The Guardian

Blinken added in a statement that China’s “Ministry of State Security (MSS) has fostered an ecosystem of criminal contract hackers who carry out both state-sponsored activities and cybercrime for their own financial gain”.

UK

How a proposed secrecy law would recast journalism as spying | Duncan Campbell and Duncan Campbell - The Guardian

Priti Patel seems to be at the heart of so many bad news stories

Israel - Palestine

Pegasus project turns spotlight on spyware firm NSO’s ties to Israeli state - The Guardian

A recent transparency report released by NSO Group acknowledged the company was “closely regulated” by export control authorities in Israel. The Defense Export Controls Agency (DECA) within the Israeli defence ministry “strictly restricts” the licensing of some surveillance products based on its own analysis of potential customers from a human rights perspective, the company said, and had rejected NSO requests for export licences “in quite a few cases”.

Moreover, NSO was also subject to an “in-depth” regulatory review by Israel on top of its own “robust internal framework”.

Within NSO, the process Israel uses to assess whether countries can be sold the technology is considered a “state secret”. A person familiar with the process said officials in both Israel’s national security council and prime minister’s office had been known to give their input.

In the case of Saudi Arabia, sources familiar with the matter said the kingdom was temporarily cut off from using Pegasus in 2018, for several months, following the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, but was allowed to begin using the spyware again in 2019 following the intervention of the Israeli government.

the 10 countries that the forensic analysis for the Pegasus project suggests have actually been abusing the technology all enjoy trade relations with Israel or have diplomatic ties with the country that have been improving markedly in recent years.

In two NSO client countries, India and Hungary, it appears governments began using the company’s technology as or after their respective prime ministers met the then Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, in high-profile encounters intended to boost trade and security cooperation. It is understood no countries that are considered enemies of Israel – such as Turkey – have been allowed to buy NSO’s wares.

What remains unclear is whether Israel’s intelligence agencies might have special privileges with NSO, such as access to surveillance material gathered using its spyware. One person close to the company, who asked to remain anonymous, said it was a frequent topic of speculation. Asked whether Israel could access intelligence gathered by NSO clients, they replied: “The Americans think so.”

That view was supported by current and former US intelligence officials, who told the Washington Post, a partner in the Pegasus project, that there was a presumption that Israel had some access – via a “backdoor” – to intelligence unearthed via such surveillance tools.

For Israel, few clients whom it has approved to use Pegasus have been as problematic as Saudi. Weeks ago, NSO cut the kingdom off once more, following allegations that Saudi had used Pegasus to hack dozens of Al Jazeera journalists.

I'm thinking that journalists and activities in countries that Israel didn't agree to sell to, like Turkey, have a lot to be thankful for.

Ben & Jerry’s to stop sales in occupied Palestinian territories - The Guardian

Vermont-based company says sales in the occupied lands were ‘inconsistent with our values’

Why did Netanyahu vote against a law he wholly embraces? - Al Jazeera

Those who cannot carry out crimes of apartheid including the separation of spouses and children from their parents are, in his perverse world, unworthy of remaining in power.

Surveillance capitalists

WhatsApp

The updated multi-device experience allows people to use the messaging service on up to four devices, excluding their smartphone, simultaneously and without requiring a constant connection with the phone. This means, even if their phone is switched off, users will be able to connect over WhatsApp, using the devices linked to their account.

Google has introduced a new ‘quick delete’ option

in its app that allows users to erase the last 15 minutes of saved Search history with the single tap of a button. Users can access the feature from the Google account menu, just below Search

Jeff Bezos to donate $200 million to Smithsonian

Billionaire entrepreneur Jeff Bezos will donate $200 million to the Smithsonian. It is the largest gift to the Smithsonian since the Institution’s founding gift

The Hindu'

Google Meet to limit time on group calls for free accounts - The Hindu
Google didn't manage to eradicate Zoom by offering the same service for free

Microsoft announces Windows 365, a computer that runs on its cloud - The Hindu

Facebook often removes evidence of rights atrocities – but we can preserve it - Scroll

We need a decentralised platform, without gatekeepers or potential single points of failure, to gather incriminating material.

16 July 2021

Links

John Biewen: Ted Talk, “The lie that invented racism”

Dave Winer recommended this. The "lie that invented racism" was a claim made in Portugal during the age of empires that black Africans, being an inferior race, can be enslaved with impunity. The man in oversimplifying, surely. Europeans don't have a monopolism on racism based on skin pigmentation. For example, it's quite likely that India's caste system (varna) is based upon it (the word itself means "colour"). And then, skin colour is only one of the differences that we rely upon to create or deny entitlement. Humans always find frivolous reasons to discriminate against some and entitle others. Every flimsy basis for discrimination is backed up by wrong notions, projections and stereotypes. Belonging to the right group will always be the key to success, belonging to the wrong group, a recipe for failure.

If we want to create a more equal society, we will need to eradicate many more bases for prejudice and entitlement, but discovering them is like whacking moles. Unless we go to the root cause and find out what motivates and fuels our tendency towards discrimination in the first place, our prejudices will always be with us.

‘Excess deaths’ in Haryana seven times official COVID-19 toll - The Hindu

India largest source of government information requests, says Twitter - The Hindu

Sedition law | Supreme Court sends strong message to government - The Hindu
Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana’s remarks in open court on Thursday sends a strong message to the government that the Supreme Court is prima facie convinced that sedition is being misused by the authorities to trample upon citizens’ fundamental rights of free speech and liberty.

Israeli spyware firm linked to fake Black Lives Matter and Amnesty websitesThe Guardian

The team also identified more than 750 domain names that appeared to be linked to Candiru and its customers. In addition to the sites masquerading as not-for-profits, the researchers found URLs that appeared to impersonate a left-leaning Indonesian publication; a site that publishes Israeli court indictments of Palestinian prisoners; a website critical of Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman; and a site that appeared to be associated with the World Health Organization.

“Candiru’s apparent presence, and the use of its surveillance technology against global civil society, is a potent reminder that the mercenary spyware industry contains many players and is prone to widespread abuse,” the report said. “This case demonstrates, yet again, that in the absence of any international safeguards or strong government export controls, spyware vendors will sell to government clients who will routinely abuse their services.”

Protecting customers from a private-sector offensive actor using 0-day exploits and DevilsTongue malware - Microsoft Security Blog

Hooking Candiru: Another Mercenary Spyware Vendor Comes into Focus - The Citizen Lab

A leaked Candiru project proposal published by TheMarker shows that Candiru’s spyware can be installed using a number of different vectors, including malicious links, man-in-the-middle attacks, and physical attacks. A vector named “Sherlock” is also offered, that they claim works on Windows, iOS, and Android.

Not Mac or Linux, though. Activists and journalists should stay away from Windows. And they so love their phones! I feel awkward and uncomfortable whenever I use the thing, and I'm not even signed into Google or the manufactor's services. I avoid Chrome and location services, and use only FDroid apps, but still feel uncomfortable, like big brother is always watching. On my computer at least, I have the illusion of being in control. Not on Windows, of course.

As part of their investigation, Microsoft observed at least 100 victims in Palestine, Israel, Iran, Lebanon, Yemen, Spain, United Kingdom, Turkey, Armenia, and Singapore. Victims include human rights defenders, dissidents, journalists, activists, and politicians.

We are still reversing most of the spyware’s functionality, but Candiru’s Windows payload appears to include features for exfiltrating files, exporting all messages saved in the Windows version of the popular encrypted messaging app Signal, and stealing cookies and passwords from Chrome, Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, and Opera browsers.

The €16 million project proposal allows for an unlimited number of spyware infection attempts, but the monitoring of only 10 devices simultaneously. For an additional €1.5M, the customer can purchase the ability to monitor 15 additional devices simultaneously, and to infect devices in a single additional country. For an additional €5.5M, the customer can monitor 25 additional devices simultaneously, and conduct espionage in five more countries.

The price point is obviously for nation states and governments.