The Guardian: This is how Saudi Arabia spies on its citizens in the United States


London – “Arab Jerusalem”:

The newspaper “The Guardian” said that Saudi Arabia took advantage of the weakness in the global communications system, in order to follow-up and pursue its citizens. In an exclusive report, Stephen Kirchgasner said that an “informant” person informed the Guardian of millions of Saudi demands to follow up on its citizens while they were traveling in the United States of America.

The data that showed the person the “amount” trying to reveal the vulnerabilities of the international messaging system known as SS7 revealed an organized espionage campaign carried out by the Kingdom. The data shows that millions of secret requests originating from Saudi Arabia were made over a four-month period beginning in November 2019.

Attempts to track the locations of the registered phones in Saudi Arabia appeared to come from three mobile phone companies in Saudi Arabia. The “informer” said that he and experts could not find a real motive behind the multiple attempts to find out the location of the phone.

He said: “There is no explanation, nor any technical reason for doing this, and Saudi Arabia turned mobile technology into a weapon.” The data obtained by the “informer” person were presented to communications and security experts, who in turn confirmed that it was an expression of a Saudi surveillance campaign.

The data revealed requests to locate the mobile phone, which is usually done through the international messaging system SS7, which allows operators to connect users around the world. As an example of how this system works, “an American traveled to Germany and tried to make a phone call to his family in America, and then he is connected via the SS7 network.”

This system allows for monitoring of phones, which was a matter of concern to experts. When an American phone carrier such as “Verizon, T-Mobile, or AT&T” receives what is called Provide Subscriber Information (PSI) in the form of an SS7 message from a mobile operator, this is a follow-up request. These requests are used in a legitimate way to assist foreign telephone operators in registering their roaming bills.

But the excessive use of these messages from mobile phone companies is an attempt to locate. The experts expressed their concern about the follow-up requests because they are continuous and at a high rate and stemming from the Saudi operators who want to locate the Saudi subscribers if they enter the United States.

It is not known whether the Saudi telephone companies that require locating the Saudi telephone bearers who subscribe to them are complicit in any government control operation. However, reports have spoken extensively about the Saudi government’s use of electronic weapons for piracy against opponents and critics of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

In January, the Guardian revealed a Saudi hacker on the phone of billionaire and Amazon owner Jeff Bezos, who in 2018 received a message on his WhatsApp account that came from a personal account of Bin Salman. Andrew Miller, a Middle East expert and former employee of the National Security Council during the administration of Barack Obama’s administration, said that censorship is part of the way Saudi Arabia operates, “I think they do not track opponents but those they fear will deviate from supporting the Saudi leadership” and “are afraid of what The Saudis will do it when they go to western countries. ”

“Amount” person data reveals that PSI requests have pressed hard for US mobile operators. It indicates that the largest mobile phone companies in Saudi Arabia, Saudi Telecom, Zain and Mobily, have sent a total of 2.3 million follow-up requests to mobile operators in America, and this period covers between November 1, 2019 and March 1, 2020.

The data suggests that the phones registered in Saudi Arabia were monitored during the travel of their holders in the United States between 2-13 times per hour. Experts say that phone users were pursued a few meters away in a particular city. The data seen by the newspaper did not reveal the identity of the pursued users. The newspaper did not get any comment from the Saudi embassies in Washington and London, or from the mentioned mobile phone companies.

Syed Rao, researcher and technician at Nokia Bell Labs, said that the data show a “high probability” that the Saudis will conduct a censorship campaign, which is revealed by multiple follow-up requests. But Rao commented that it was difficult to determine what to follow or a regular call.

However, the amount of data provided by the “informed” person made Rao confident that the requests were not legitimate. The Saudis have sent requests to locate locations known as Provide Subscriber Location or PSL, which are banned by American mobile operators, which raises a wide range of suspicion.

John Scott Rilton, a senior researcher at the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto, said the data seen by the “Guardian” revealed the exploitation of Saudi Arabia and “flagrant abuse” of the American mobile network. And “this hour of the crisis must phone companies, regulators and the Ministry of Justice intervene and prevent external forces from following us on our phones.”

T-Mobile did not comment on a request from the newspaper about receiving follow-up requests. AT&T said it has a system that prevents follow-up messages. The Democratic senator from Oregon, a member of the Intelligence Committee, Ron Weeden, had sent a message to the mobile operator, warning of “malicious attackers” exploiting SS7.


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