Wide Angle

Citizen Lab survey lists Morocco as customer of Circles, a subsidiary of Israel’s NSO Group

Along with 24 countries, Morocco has been cited as a potential customer of Circles, a subsidiary of the Israeli surveillance company NSO, according to Citizen Lab.

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Morocco is one of the 25 customers of Circles, a subsidiary of the Israeli company NSO, according to Citizen Lab. In a newly published investigation, the Canadian research center said this week it had «identified what appeared to be a single Circles system in Morocco».

Citizen Lab reveals that the Morocco «client’s IPs are in the same as several websites of the Bureau central d’investigation judiciaire (BCIJ), and are in the same as the website of the Moroccan Auxiliary Forces (FA)». «Both the FA and BCIJ are under the auspices of Morocco’s Ministry of Interior», it explained.

Citizen Lab also reports that a «government agency in Morocco also appears to be a client of Circles’ affiliate NSO Group, though the identity of this Moroccan agency has not been established».

The research center recalls that «Morocco has been connected to multiple cases of surveillance abuse over the past decade, ranging from the targeting of human rights organizations with Hacking Team’s spyware to a string of more recent cases in which NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware was used to target civil society within Morocco and abroad».

Circles systems used in at least 25 countries

Circles is a surveillance company that allegedly exploits weaknesses in the global mobile phone system to spy on calls, texts, and phone locators around the world. According to the survey, the company's products «work without hacking the phone itself».

«According to leaked documents, Circles customers can purchase a system that they connect to their local telecommunications companies’ infrastructure, or can use a separate system called the ‘Circles Cloud’, which interconnects with telecommunications companies around the world», Citizen Lab explains.

The investigation was carried out «using internet scanning» with the center managing to find «a unique signature associated with the hostnames of Check Point firewalls used in Circles deployments». The survey identified at least 25 countries, including Australia, Belgium, Israel, Nigeria and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The company was reportedly founded in 2008, acquired in 2014 by Francisco Partners, and then merged with NSO Group. Its systems make it possible to exploit the vulnerabilities of Signaling System 7 (SS7), a protocol suite developed in 1975 for exchanging information and routing phone calls between different wireline telecommunications companies.

The research center takes advantage of these revelations to warn about the abuses of the surveillance sector still «poorly regulated» in many countries. «Governments across the globe should take action to protect their citizens and their own operations», warned Citizen Lab.

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