A technical analysis and interviews with computer security experts showed that the firm behind ToTok, Breej Holding, is most likely a front company affiliated with DarkMatter, an Abu Dhabi-based cyberintelligence and hacking firm where Emirati intelligence officials, former National Security Agency employees and former Israeli military intelligence operatives work. DarkMatter is under F.B.I. investigation, according to former employees and law enforcement officials, for possible cybercrimes. The American intelligence assessment and the technical analysis also linked ToTok to Pax AI, an Abu Dhabi-based data mining firm that appears to be tied to DarkMatter.
An Israeli company licenses software around the world that can crack just about any smartphone, but is its use always on the side of good?
Hulio’s company, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, first made global headlines in 2016 when its tools were used by the authoritarian government of the UAE in order to spy on Ahmed Mansoor, an award-winning human rights activist. The company has never fully addressed the spying; Mansoor currently sits, untried and unable to regularly contact his family, in an unidentified prison somewhere in the UAE on charges of criticizing the UAE government.
The spotlight did not dissuade the company. Instead, it served as an advertisement to other authoritarian governments about NSO Group’s exceptional ability …
Before NSO helped the Saudi government track its adversaries outside the kingdom, and helped the Mexican government hunt drug kingpins, and earned hundreds of millions of dollars working for dozens of countries on six continents, the company consisted of two high school friends in northern Israel with one relatively mundane idea.
Using technology developed by graduates of Intelligence Unit 8200 — Israel’s equivalent of the N.S.A.— Shalev Hulio and Omri Lavie started a company in 2008 that allowed cellphone firms to gain remote access to their customers’ devices to perform maintenance.
Word spread to Western spy services, whose operatives spotted an opportunity.