June 19, 2024

U.S. Congress Targeted with Predator Spyware

In a shocking revelation, suspected Vietnamese government agents made a bold attempt to infect the phones of members of the U.S. Congress and other American individuals with sophisticated spyware.

This is an instance of an organized espionage attempt that rocked the political environment, raising concerns about the vulnerability of critical government systems to foreign intrusion.

The espionage operation primarily targeted the House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, and Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Gary Peters.

The investigation was coordinated by the European Investigative Collaboration network, while it received technical assistance from the Security Lab of Amnesty International.

It revealed the involvement of multiple parties in the audacious espionage attempt.

Initially, the campaign was discovered and reported last May by Google. However, no concrete evidence showed that the Predator spyware was successfully implanted on any of the targeted phones.

Everyone responding to the incident claimed that they never encountered the malicious links meant to install the spyware. Neither did they believe that they had clicked on those links.

The ‘Surprisingly Public’ Nature of the Operation

The surprisingly public nature of the operation sets it apart. The operators used anonymous accounts on social media platforms, particularly Twitter, to post links in replies to the tweets or replies of the targets that tagged the individuals in question.

This approach raised concerns, prompting cybersecurity experts to be critical of the matter. Researcher John Scott-Railton of the Citizen Lab of the University of Toronto described it as a “terrible idea”.

The fact that would even happen proves Predator is still going to reckless operators.John Scott-Railton

The Predator spyware is marketed by a network of companies collectively known as the Intellexa alliance, which includes a company called Cytrox.

The head of Amnesty International’s Security Lab, Donncha Ó Cearbhaill, believes that various intermediaries were used to sell the Predator spyware from Intellexa to the Vietnamese Ministry of Public Security.

However, the Vietnamese government has declined to comment on these allegations. Parties associated with the alliance have also remained silent on the issue.

Other Targets Of The Spyware

Apart from members of Congress, the spyware targeted other prominent members like Senator Chris Murphy, journalists from CNN like Jim Sciutto, who happens to be its chief national security analyst, and members of Washington think tanks.

The operators also targeted Emily Haber, the German ambassador to the United States, and Pierre Karleskind, a French member of the European Parliament.

The list also includes international figures like Roberta Metsola, the president of the European Parliament, and Tsai Ing-wen, the president of Taiwan.

The timing of this espionage attempt is particularly significant as it comes at a time when negotiations are underway between the Vietnamese and American diplomats on a major cooperation agreement to counter the influence of China in the Asia-Pacific region.

This incident highlights the potential interference in diplomatic discussions and the interests of countries. The United States State Department has yet to respond to the incident. The Biden administration expressed deep concern about the targeting of members of Congress.

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