Nigeria’s Defense Intelligence Agency has acquired equipment it can use to spy on its citizens’ calls and texts, according to a report from the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, which studies digital surveillance, security, privacy and responsibility.
The report, titled Running in Circles: Uncovering the Clients of Cyberespionage Firm Circles, states that a telecommunications watchdog company called Circles has helped state security apparatuses in 25 countries, including Nigeria, spy on them. communications from opposition figures, journalists and demonstrators.
The Citizen Lab report also said that Circles was affiliated with the Tel Aviv-based NSO Group, an Israeli hacking company, whose software, Pegasus, was allegedly used by several governments to spy on dissidents by taking control of their smartphones. , sound cameras and microphones, and extract the user’s personal data.
Circles, on the other hand, is known to sell systems to exploit vulnerabilities in Signaling System 7 (SS7) and claims to have sold the technology to multiple countries, according to the report.
SS7 is a system that allows one mobile network to connect to another.
“Unlike NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware, the SS7 mechanism by which Circles’ product would operate does not have an obvious signature on a target’s phone,” the report explains.
The report indicated that the Pegasus and Circles products could potentially be integrated.
But there is little information on how the Circles system integrates with NSO Group’s flagship Pegasus spyware, although a former NSO Group employee told Motherboard that Pegasus had a “terrible integration with Circles. “and that Circles had” exaggerated the capabilities of their system “, according to the report.
Nigerian Governors Using Circles Product
According to the report, at least two entities in Nigeria have deployed the Circles product.
“A system may be operated by the same entity as one of the Nigerian FinFisher spyware clients that we detected in December 2014,” the report said.
“The other client appears to be the Nigerian Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), as its firewall IP addresses are in AS37258, a block of IP addresses registered with” HQ Defense Intelligence Agency Asokoro, Nigeria, Abuja “, he added.
The report also refers to an investigation by the online newspaper Premium Times, which concluded that the governors of two Nigerian states “had bought systems from the Circles to spy on their political opponents.”
“In Delta State, Premium Times reports that the system was installed … and operated by governor’s employees rather than the police,” the report said.
“In Bayelsa State, the governor reportedly used the Circles system to spy on his opponent in an election, as well as his wife and assistants.
“The investigation also revealed that the two Circles systems were imported without the proper permissions from the office of the Nigerian National Security Advisor,” the report adds.
Earlier this year, an Israeli court rejected a request to revoke the NSO group’s export license over the alleged use of the company’s technology to target journalists and dissidents around the world.
The case, brought by Amnesty International in January, called on the court to prevent NSO from selling its technology abroad, especially to repressive governments.
Although NSO does not disclose its customers, the Israeli firm’s cellphone hacking software, Pegasus, has been linked to political surveillance in Mexico, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, according to Citizen Lab.
Last year, WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook Inc, sued NSO in U.S. federal court in San Francisco, accusing it of aiding government spies into the phones of around 1,400 users on four continents.
The targets of the alleged hacking frenzy included diplomats, political dissidents, journalists and senior officials.
NSO has denied the allegations, saying it “only provides technology to authorized government intelligence and law enforcement agencies to help them fight terrorism and serious crime.”