The controversial spyware maker NSO Group won an award at one of the biggest cybersecurity conferences in the world for an iPhone exploit that allegedly allowed their customers to hack dozens of dissidents and journalists all over the world.
Every year, security researchers give out the Pwnie Awards—a play on the word “pwn,” a variation of the world “own,” which is used to indicate somebody getting hacked. The ceremony is a jovial, tongue-in-cheek celebration of the best and worst hacks, and the worst company responses of the year.
This year, NSO Group was nominated for the Best Mobile Bug, for the exploit known as Forced Entry, an iPhone exploit that didn’t require any interaction from the victim, meaning targets could get hacked without realizing anything happened. Security researchers praised the technical sophistication of the exploit, calling it “mind-bending,” a bug that “goes into ‘holy smokes, what?!’ area,” with “several truly beautiful aspects,” and “absolutely stunning.”
“I didn’t even know that we were nominated,” Shalev Hulio, one of the founders of NSO Group, told Motherboard in an online chat.
When Motherboard told him that the reward was a cute little pony, he said: “Ah nice :)”
When one of the Pwnie Awards organizers Sophia D’Antoine announced the prize, she asked if anyone from NSO was present to pick it up, or if anyone else would pick it up on behalf of NSO. No one from the attendees came to pick up the prize.
Do you work for NSO Group or another lawful intercept company? Or do you have information cases of government spyware abuse? We’d love to hear from you. From a non-work phone or computer, you can contact Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai securely on Signal at +1 917 257 1382, Wickr/Telegram/Wire @lorenzofb, or email [email protected]
John Scott-Railton, a senior researcher at Citizen Lab, a digital rights watchdog housed at the University of Toronto’s Munk School that has investigated companies NSO Group for years said that the award should actually go to “Loujain al-Hathloul, the Saudi women’s rights activist who bravely came forward to be checked.”
NSO Group is the second government spyware vendor to win a Pwnie Award, after the now-defunct Hacking Team won the “Epic 0wnage” award in 2015 for the devastating hack that the company suffered at the hands of the vigilante hacker Phineas Fisher.
The post Spyware Maker NSO Won Cellphone Hack of the Year But No One Picked Up the Award appeared first on VICE.