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July 19, 2021
🚀 Good morning! Worth reminding you that Jeffrey Bezos flies to space tomorrow, at about 9:00AM ET, with the broadcast starting earlier. Even without Bezos (and his brother and other paying passengers) aboard, it’ll be a memorable event as Blue Origin launches a rocket into space for the purpose of letting non-astronauts peek at the globe from afar.
Security story of the year:
Siri listening stock photo 1

The NSO Group, an Israeli surveillance company, has powerful hacking software called Pegasus, and a major report in The Guardian, in collaboration with 16 other media organisations including Amnesty International, has shown it’s being completely misused, because of course.

What is Pegasus:

  • NSO’s malware can infect both iPhone and Android smartphones, with zero-click deployments, including even the latest iPhones running iOS 14.6.
  • It basically provides full access: once installed, it can “extract messages, photos, and emails, record calls and secretly activate microphones.” That’s even on WhatsApp or Signal, because decrypting messages isn’t required.
  • But it’s all ok, because NSO insists it is only intended for government-level intelligence agencies, law enforcement, and the military to use it against the likes of “criminals and terrorists.”
  • How Pegasus works (WashPo, $).

And, of course, it’s being misused.

  • The allure of almost-foolproof hacking is, of course, too strong. Human instinct is hardly unknown, at this point:
  • The major bombshell report is that with the relatively unlimited secret power of the NSO tech, it’s not just genuine security interests being monitored.
  • Instead all kinds of people have been monitored; a list of 50,000 names dating back to 2016 includes: “hundreds of business executives, religious figures, academics, NGO employees, union officials and government officials, including cabinet ministers, presidents, and prime ministers.”
  • “The list also contains the numbers of close family members of one country’s ruler, suggesting the ruler may have instructed their intelligence agencies to explore the possibility of monitoring their own relatives.”
  • “180 journalists are listed in the data, including reporters, editors, and executives at the Financial Times, CNN, The New York Times, France 24, The Economist, Associated Press, and Reuters.”
  • To give you an idea, in a random check by Amnesty’s Security Lab, 37 out of a sample of 67 phones used by “journalists, human rights activists and lawyers” had the attack software installed.
  • But the number may be higher: given some had changed phones, and Android phones don’t keep logs of activity as iPhones do.
  • In any case, this will be a hot topic across the week as names are revealed. Read the first announcement, and today’s reveal(The Guardian) of a set of people who were targeted — like French human rights lawyer Joseph Breham, allegedly targeted by the government of Morocco: “There is no possible justification for a foreign state to listen to a French lawyer. There is no justification on a legal, ethical, or moral level,” he said.
  • Wonderful. Coverage is also across many other collaborating outlets.

🍎 Apple might give the iPhone 13 an always-on display, catching up to Android (Android Authority).

🎧 Soak up the first real-world shots of Bose’s upcoming QuietComfort 45 headphones, which have now passed through the FCC (Android Authority).

📸 The Huawei P50 series, set to pack some kind of much larger image sensor, finally has a launch date: July 29 (Android Authority).

Nintendo denies report that OLED Switch will have higher profit margin. It’s somewhat significant that Nintendo denied it, as public companies being untruthful can result in fines: “To ensure correct understanding among our investors and customers, we want to make clear that the claim is incorrect.” (The Verge).

📺 Samsung’s colossal 1,000-inch MicroLED The Wall display has improved colors and a thinner design. It’s probably a looooot of money, too. Millions, minimum. (The Verge).

👉 “Why the Steam Deck won’t flop like Valve’s Steam Machines,” which is a bold opinion given the device is pretty unknown for now, but some compelling thoughts here including why the pricetag is pretty great. As ever, I’m more cautious when it comes to actually pre-ordering… (The Verge).

🚗 Tesla is now offering its “Full Self-Driving” subscription for $199 per month, a much easier way to try the drive-assist feature than the $10,000 one-time upgrade price (Electrek).

🔋 Amazon-backed Rivian delays output by two months to September, citing supply-chain woes (Bloomberg, $).

💰 Zoom is buying Five9, a cloud call center company for $14.7 billion. Five9 offers “Contact Center as a Service” and I’d not heard a lot about this kind of thing, nor that just one player would be worth $14.7 billion! (Engadget).

🗝️ Hackers got past Windows Hello by tricking a webcam (Ars Technica).

😕 Collectors are as confused as you are about that $1.56M Super Mario 64 sale (Ars Technica).

🔴 Curiosity rover might be sitting near microbe ‘burps’ on Mars (Engadget).

🏎 How F1 got the data crunched for its new race car for 2022 (TechCrunch).

The Dark Side of Chess: Buying games to become a grandmaster (NY Times, free link).

🤔 “What is cheap right now but will become expensive in the near future?” Vanilla surprised me, but used cars being expensive right now did not! (r/askreddit).

Monday Meme

A good little one ahead of the Olympics starting on July 23, this week:

air horse 1

All the best,
Tristan Rayner, Senior Editor

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