“LONDON – This past Sunday, an investigation into the global abuse of spyware developed by veterans of Israeli intelligence Unit 8200 gained widespread attention, as it was revealed that the software – sold to democratic and authoritarian governments alike – had been used to illegally spy on an estimated 50,000 individuals. Among those who had their communications and devices spied on by the software, known as Pegasus, were journalists, human rights activists, business executives, academics and prominent political leaders. Among those targeted political leaders, per reports, were the current leaders of France, Pakistan, South Africa, Egypt, Morocco and Iraq.
The abuse of Pegasus software in this very way has been known for several years, though these latest revelations appear to have gained such traction in the mainstream owing to the high number of civilians who have reportedly been surveilled through its use. The continuation of the now-years-long scandal surrounding the abuse of Pegasus has also brought considerable controversy and notoriety to the Israeli company that developed it, the NSO Group.
While the NSO Group has become infamous, other Israeli companies with even deeper ties to Israel’s intelligence apparatus have been selling software that not only provides the exact same services to governments and intelligence agencies but purports to go even farther.
Originally founded by former Israeli Prime Minister and Jeffrey Epstein associate Ehud Barak, one of these companies’ wares are being used by countries around the world, including in developing countries with the direct facilitation of global financial institutions like the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the World Bank. In addition, the software is only made available to governments that are “trusted” by Israel’s government, which “works closely” with the company.
Despite the fact that this firm has been around since 2018 and was covered in detail by this author for MintPress News in January 2020, no mainstream outlet – including those that have extensively covered the NSO Group – has bothered to examine the implications of this story.
Worse than Pegasus
Toka was launched in 2018 with the explicit purpose of selling a “tailored ecosystem of cyber capabilities and software products for governmental, law enforcement, and security agencies.” According to a profile of the company published in Forbes shortly after it launched, Toka advertised itself as “a one-stop hacking shop for governments that require extra capability to fight terrorists and other threats to national security in the digital domain.”
Toka launched with plans to “provide spy tools for whatever device its clients require,” including not only smartphones but a “special focus on the so-called Internet of Things (IoT).” Per the company, this includes devices like Amazon Echo, Google Nest-connected home products, as well as connected fridges, thermostats and alarms. Exploits in these products discovered by Toka, the company said at the time, would not be disclosed to vendors, meaning those flaws would continue to remain vulnerable to any hacker, whether a client of Toka or not.
Today, Toka’s software suite claims to offer its customers in law enforcement, government and intelligence the ability to obtain “targeted intelligence” and to conduct “forensic investigations” as well as “covert operations.” In addition, Toka offers governments its “Cyber Designers” service, which provides “agencies with the full-spectrum strategies, customized projects and technologies needed to keep critical infrastructure, the digital landscape and government institutions secure and durable.”
Given that NSO’s Pegasus targets only smartphones, Toka’s hacking suite – which, like Pegasus, is also classified as a “lawful intercept” product – is capable of targeting any device connected to the internet, including but not limited to smartphones. In addition, its target clientele are the same as those of Pegasus, providing an easy opportunity for governments to gain access to even more surveillance capabilities than Pegasus offers, but without risking notoriety in the media, since Toka has long avoided the limelight.”