ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 149

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Report: Israel nixed QuaDream’s spyware deal with Morocco, leading to firm’s closure

Haaretz says the Defense Ministry cracked down on company’s sales of cellphone hacking software overseas, following global fallout from similar NSO Group activity

Illustrative: Human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor shows Associated Press journalists a screenshot of a spoof text message, used to attempt to hack him, in Ajman, United Arab Emirates, August 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)
Illustrative: Human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor shows Associated Press journalists a screenshot of a spoof text message, used to attempt to hack him, in Ajman, United Arab Emirates, August 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)

An Israeli spyware firm was reportedly forced to shut down after the Israeli government prevented it from moving ahead with deals to sell its highly invasive surveillance software to foreign countries, including Morocco.

According to a report Tuesday in the Haaretz newspaper, QuaDream, an Israeli firm that has drawn comparisons to the highly controversial NSO Group, had to close up shop when it found itself unable to move forward with a number of overseas deals it had in the works.

QuaDream’s signature product, REIGN, included capabilities such as “real-time call recordings, camera activation — front and back,” and “microphone activation,” according to a company brochure uncovered by Canada-based internet watchdog Citizen Lab.

The newspaper report cited five sources claiming that QuaDream decided to close its doors after it failed to receive Defense Ministry authority to sell REIGN to new clients.

The firm shut down last month just a few days after an extensive report into its usage to target journalists and activists was released.

Citizen Lab identified clients of QuaDream’s REIGN program in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Ghana, Israel, Mexico, Romania, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates, and Uzbekistan. Two years ago, it was reported that QuaDream was selling its spyware to Saudi Arabia via a shell company in Cyprus.

Phone hacking. Illustrative. (Ali Kerem Yücel/iStockPhoto)

Haaretz reported that amid the ongoing fallout from NSO Group’s sales and activity around the globe, the Israeli government cracked down on QuaDream, which was forced to pull out of a handful of deals with foreign nations even though the initial talks had received Israel’s approval.

The most prominent of those deals was reportedly with Morocco, which has been accused repeatedly in recent years of using spyware to target human rights activists and journalists.

Rabat allegedly also used NSO Group’s Pegasus against French President Emmanuel Macron — a claim denied by Morocco, which said it never bought the software and has filed lawsuits against French media and Amnesty International. The incident strained relations between Paris and Jerusalem.

According to Haaretz, NSO Group failed to receive Defense Ministry approval to renew its contract with Morocco.

Illustrative: A man holds a phone with the NSO Group logo (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

Citizen Lab researcher Bill Marczak told The Wall Street Journal last month that QuaDream’s hacking technology is as sophisticated as NSO Group’s, though it took greater pains than the more well-known group to hide its fingerprints on the devices targeted by its spyware.

Reuters reported last year that QuaDream’s technology was developed in 2021 to allow clients to break into iPhones without the target needing to click a link, around the same time as NSO Group developed its own software.

NSO says it sells its hacking software, Pegasus, only to governments for the purpose of fighting crime and terrorism, and all sales require approval from the Defense Ministry. While maintaining it has safeguards in place to prevent abuse, NSO says it has no control over how a client uses the product and no access to the data they collect. It says it has terminated several contracts due to inappropriate use of Pegasus.

NSO has been involved in numerous scandals in recent years and has faced a torrent of international criticism over allegations it helps governments, including dictatorships and authoritarian regimes, spy on dissidents and rights activists.

Unlike NSO, QuaDream has kept a lower profile despite serving some of the same government clients. A source familiar with the company told Reuters it has no website touting its business, and its employees have been told to keep any reference to their employer off social media.

QuaDream was reportedly founded in 2016 by Ilan Dabelstein, a former Israeli military official, and by two former NSO employees, Guy Geva and Nimrod Reznik, according to Israeli corporate records and two people familiar with the business.

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