Cocorico: France has its remedy for the Israeli malware Pegasus which Morocco allegedly used to target many leading French politicians and journalists. The diplomatic stake of these tools becomes crucial.
The French company Tehtris, located in Pessac, on the outskirts of Bordeaux, has been a known player in the cybersecurity sector for several years, but it has mainly been talked about in recent days since the publication on July 19 of a sensational journalistic investigation delivered by the media consortium Forbidden stories.
According to this large-scale investigation, journalists, political opponents and political figures from several countries were spied on by the Pegasus spyware (from the Israeli company NSO, also well known in cybersecurity) installed on their telephony tools, or would have been targeted for this purpose, in particular from Morocco, which denies.
The revelations keep coming in this case, but the technologies intended to counter this type of attack, described as particularly devious, are not yet legion. Among the few technological solutions proposed (which would be three in number for the moment), there is one which is French: Tehtris.
Articles that mention the “nugget” or “unicorn” of the tech French do not fail to point out that the co-founders of Tehtris come from the ranks of the Ministry of Defense and more particularly from the General Directorate of External Security (DGSE): Elena Poincet and Laurent Oudot. A pledge of seriousness before installing the Tehtris MTD application on your smartphone (Mobile Threat Defense), which can detect spyware on devices.
Asked by RT France, Fabrice Epelboin, renowned player in cybersecurity and teacher at Sciences Po Paris confirms that few companies are currently competent to detect Pegasus, but he also believes that the market in this segment is quite small for companies cybersecurity.
And for good reason, for the moment it only concerns a few hundred thousand high-value targets in the world (including the President of the Republic, former Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and a dozen other French ministers according to the survey. of Forbidden stories): “We are told about 50,000 targets in the list that have leaked for the moment, so there will perhaps be 200,000 or 300,000 people who will need this service and who will want to reassure themselves. So it’s not the deal of the century, it’s not mass surveillance with Pegasus, it’s the opposite, it’s very precise targeting. On the other hand, it is a very good way for Tehtris to meet VIPs and to build an address book. ”
Known activist for individual freedoms and open licenses Creative commons, Fabrice Epelboin specifies, mockingly, to the address of leading political figures: “So much the better if they are a little paranoid. This will perhaps push them to wonder about the world they helped to build when they were or are in power … They have passed a lot of freedom-killing laws under the guise of the fight against terrorism or [la lutte contre] pedophilia [l’entreprise NSO vend d’ailleurs ses solutions informatiques avec cet argumentaire]. “
On the Moroccan aspect of the case, the teacher also delivers a hypothesis that he has already formulated on his Twitter profile by questioning the alleged interest of Morocco in targeting French personalities like Eric Zemmour or the rebellious elected official Adrien Quatennens who have no connection with the kingdom. “Some laws in France prevent VIPs from being monitored, so we subcontract to Morocco, for example,” he says.
Concerning French technology, Fabrice Epelboin recalls, like other observers of the sector like the journalist Olivier Tesquet, that France has already produced similar surveillance tools in its time, in particular with the company Amesys, now Nexa and who migrated to the United Arab Emirates. The company had created the Eagle mass surveillance tool which became Cerebro and Nicolas Sarkozy’s France sold these technologies to Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya or Marshal Sisi’s Egypt, as was later revealed. .. The technology was also sold in Morocco at the time of Nicolas Sarkozy, officially to fight against the terrorist threat.
If France and Israel have promised the opening of judicial and parliamentary inquiries, the Pegasus affair has not finished shaking the walls of diplomacy, particularly with regard to the strong relationship between France and Morocco, which is considered as “a privileged gateway to African business” by France, as Fabrice Epelboin emphasizes.
The latter also wonders about the revelation according to which the king of Morocco Mohammed VI himself, as well as his Prime Minister, would have been targeted: “We are perhaps witnessing the premises of a coup d’etat in Morocco where the the question of the sovereign’s succession is already being raised. ”
Anyway, among the three currently known remedies for Israeli malware, two are American (from the cyber firms Crowdstrike and Lookout) and another is French (Tehtris) … The opportunity to recall as Elodie Guégen said, journalist with the investigation unit of Radio France, interviewed by France Culture on July 21, that in the list of names which would have been targeted by Morocco via this Israeli software does not appear any American telephone number, because Pegasus does not allow it.
This data indicates that technological non-aggression agreements have been made between the United States and Israel, so that the scope of these surveillance tools is as diplomatic as security, to such an extent that States will have to equip equivalents of Pegasus and Tehtris … when they haven’t already.
France, which sometimes lags behind in terms of conventional armament, particularly in terms of armed drones, can therefore already count on hexagonal solutions in the cybersecurity aspect. The former technical director of the DGSE Bernard Barbier sits on the advisory board of Tehtris and was delighted in November 2020, as noted by our colleagues from Challenges : “Technically, Tehtris is at the level of Crowdstrike, the American giant in the sector. They have the potential to be the French cyber unicorn that France needs. ”
Indeed, the unicorn raised 20 million euros during the same period and announced the creation of several hundred jobs in the Bordeaux and Paris regions.