As surveillance controversies have raged in connection with Israeli spyware vendor NSO Group, another, lesser known spyware firm from Israel has also apparently been helping hack iPhones all over the world.
Reuters reports that the company QuaDream is a smaller, “lower profile” surveillance vendor that nevertheless boasts similar hacking capabilities to NSO and, in fact, was partially founded by two former NSO employees. Apparently based in Tel Aviv, the firm hasn’t had much exposure in the American press until now but, like NSO, QuaDream has similarly exploited “many of the same vulnerabilities” in Apple’s software to help its clients hack iPhone users, Reuters reports.
QuaDream reportedly sells a “zero-click” exploit—a sneaky cyberattack that can silently compromise phones without any need for phishing. That exploit, cheerfully dubbed REIGN, is thought to be almost identical to FORCEDENTRY, a fearsome NSO cyber exploit that is reputed to be “one of the most technically sophisticated exploits” ever produced, according to the Google researchers who analyzed it.
Similarly, QuaDream’s spyware seems to have frightening capabilities that can completely and utterly invade a person’s digital life. Reuters writes that REIGN has the capability to:
...take control of a smartphone, scooping up instant messages from services such as WhatsApp, Telegram, and Signal, as well as emails, photos, texts and contacts, according to two product brochures from 2019 and 2020 which were reviewed by Reuters. REIGN’s “Premium Collection” capabilities included the “real time call recordings”, “camera activation - front and back” and “microphone activation”, one brochure said.
Not a whole lot is known about QuaDream’s client base, though the company has reportedly worked on behalf of the governments of Saudi Arabia, Mexico, and Singapore, Reuters reports. It may have also worked for the government of Indonesia, according to the outlet.
Israel has a thriving surveillance industry and is reportedly one of the biggest hubs for cyberweapons distribution in the world. Four other Israeli surveillance firms, including CobWebs Technologies, Bluehawk CI, Cognyte, and Black Cube, were all kicked off of the company formerly known as Facebook’s platforms in December after it was revealed they had been engaged in ongoing espionage activities targeted at tens of thousands of users.
Relatedly, NSO’s ongoing scandals have caused significant distress in Israel, where the company is alleged to have close ties with the government and has often been used as a diplomatic tool. The recent revelations about QuaDream are unlikely to help that situation.