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How undercover agents are targeting a cyber security observer

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Civil Labs Director Ron Deabber describes cascades as "a new low level."

"We condemn these ominous, underdeveloped activities under the most stringent conditions," he said. in a statement from Friday. "Such a deceptive attack on an academic group like Civil Labs is an attack on academic freedom everywhere."

To whom these workers work remains a mystery, but their tactics recall those of private researchers who accept complex false identities, intelligence or compromise material for critics of powerful figures in government or business.

A civil laboratory, based at the School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, has for years played a leading role in exposing state hackers working in places near Tibet, Ethiopia and Syria. Recently, the group has drawn attention to the repeated exposure of an Israeli surveillance software provider called the NSO Group, a company whose products have been used by governments to target journalists in Mexico, opposition figures in Panama and human rights activists in the Middle East. In October, a Civic Lab reported that an iPhone belonging to one of Khashoggi's trusted individuals was infected by NSP's spyware just months before Khashoggi's terrible murder. The friend, Saudi dissident Omar Abdulaziz, will later argue that hacking has revealed Khashoggi's private criticism from the Saudi royal family to spies of the Arab kingdom and thus "played an important role" in his death. have anything to do with undercover operations directed at the Civic Lab, "directly or indirectly," and said they neither hired nor asked anyone to hire private detectives to pursue the Canadian organization. "Any assumption to the contrary is factually incorrect and nothing more than unjustified speculation," said NCO.

The NSO has long denied that his software was used to direct Khashoggi, although he declined to comment when he sold it.

The first message reached Bahr Abdul Razak, a Syrian refugee who worked as a Civil Lab researcher on Dec. 6 when a person called Gary Bowman contacted LinkedIn. The man describes himself as executive director of South Africa based in Madrid.

"I found your profile and I think the work that helped Syrian refugees and your extensive technical training could be very good for our new initiative

Abdul Razak said he thought the proposal was a bit weird , but eventually agreed to meet with the man in the cozy Shangri-la Hotel in Toronto on December 1


Abdul Razak says very quickly instead of talking about refugees, Abdul Razak said that Bowman had prepared him for his work for Civil Labs and the investigation of the use of the software and NGO Abdul Razak said Bowman was reading hat cards, asking him if he was earning enough money and throwing out issues concerning Israel, the war in Syria and the religion of Abdul Razak

"Are you asking?" Abdul Razak reminded Bowman asks him, "Why are you writing about NMS only?" "Are you writing about this because it is an Israeli company?" "Are you hating Israel?" "Abdul Razak said he had left the meeting and felt shaken." He warned his colleagues in Civic lab, "which quickly found that breakfast dinner was a trick. The Flamenco-based Baumann-based company, FlameTech, did not have a Web presence outside the LinkedIn page, a handful of social media profiles, and a record in the Crunchbase business information platform. Reverse Image Looks reveals that the profile picture of the person named FlameTech's CEO, Mauriceio Alonso, is a snapshot with stock.

"My immediate feeling was," It's a counterfeit, "said John Scott-Reyton,

Scott-Relenton signaled the AP incident, confirming that FlameTech was a digital facade. Senior Researcher at the Internet Citizen Monitoring Group in New York, January 17, 2019. Kathy Willens / AP

Searches in the Orbis database for corporate records that contain data for about 300 million global companies do not show proof of a Spanish company FlameTech or Flame Tech Company anywhere in the world matching its inventory Similarly, the AP did not find any record of FlameTech in the official Madrid register or Gary Bowman on the phone directories of the city, and the search for "Orbis" for Alonso, the alleged CEO, was also ended when an AP reporter visited the height of Crystal Tower in Madrid, where FlameTech claims to have 250 square meters of office space, can not find any traces of the company and calls to the numbers listed on its website remain unanswered.

The AP is about to publish a story about the curious company when on January 9, Scott-Reyton received his own intriguing message.

This time the contact did not come from Bowman from FlameTech, but from someone. who identified himself as Michelle Lambert, director of the Paris-based agricultural technology company CPW-Consulting.

Lambert has done his homework. In his opening e-mail, he referred to Scott-Railton's early doctoral studies for kite-aerial photography, a technique for mapping with kite-mounted cameras, and said he was "quite impressed."

This could be greatly benefiting from the deployment of Kite Aerial Photography, "he said. The searches of Orbis and the French Infogreffe Commercial Court register showed no sign of the alleged Paris-based company or the Paris-based company bearing the CPW abbreviation. And when the AP visited the presumed CPW service, there was no evidence of the company; the address was the home of a mostly residential building. Residents and building staff said they had never heard of the company.

Anyone who dreamed of CPW has taken steps to ensure that the illusion has survived in casual web search, but even those efforts have not been the subject of much attention. The company has published a helper ad, for example, looking for a digital mapping specialist for their office in Paris, but Scott-Reyton found that the language was raised almost by a word from advertising from an unrelated company looking for a mapping specialist. in London. A post on the blog highlighted CPW as a major player in Africa, but the study of the author's profile suggests that the article is the only one the blogger ever wrote.

When Lambert proposed a personal meeting in New York in January. On a phone call, Scott-Reyton was sure Lambert was trying to set it up.

But Scott-Reyton agreed to the meeting.

Anyone who looks at Scott-Reainton and Lambert who laughed at the beef and lobster at the Peninsula Hotel's restaurant on Thursday afternoon may have mistaken for friends. , Lambert had put a big feather in which Scott-Railton said he noticed a small camera lens that peered from the opening at the top.

In fact, lunch was Spy vs. Spy. Scott-Reutton spent the night before trying to hide a home camera in his tie, he later told AP, eventually settling for the GoPro action camera and several recording devices hidden for his man. At the table, Lambert had put a large feather in which Scott-Reutton said he noticed a small lens on the camera that peered from the hole in the top.

Lambert did not look alone. At the beginning of the dinner behind him was a man who picked up his phone as if to shoot and suddenly left the restaurant without eating. Later, two or three people materialized in the bar and seemed to be watching.

Scott-Reitton was not alone. At several tables, two Associated Press journalists were making a small conversation while waiting for a Scott-Reyton report, which invited the reporters to watch the lunch closely and then interview Lambert at the end of the dinner. the conversation began with a discussion of kites, gossip about African politicians, and a departure from Scott-Reyton's family. But Lambert, like Bowman, eventually directed the conversation at Civic Laboratory and NCO.

"Working drama, tell me, I like the drama!" Lambert said at one point, according to Scott-Rayton's record of the conversation. – Is there a lot of competition among people in the citizens' lab? Asked Later

Like Bowman, it seems that Lamberr worked with cards and occasionally made unpleasant conversational gambits. At one point he repeated a racist French expression, insisting it was not offensive. He also asked Scott-Reyton questions about the Holocaust, anti-Semitism and whether he grew up with Jewish friends. At another point he asked if there might be a "racist element" in the interest of civilian laboratories in Israel's spyware.

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