Emirati Spying App Is Linked to Company Employing Former NSO Programmers, Report Says

On Sunday, the New York Times reported that popular chat app ToTok is, in fact, a spying tool. The app was linked to Emirati government company DarkMatter, previously reported to have poached several employees from Israeli surveillance company NSO

CTech 13:4823.12.19
A sophisticated surveillance tool disguised as a messaging app is linked to Abu Dhabi-based cyber surveillance company DarkMatter, according to a Sunday report by the New York Times. In a March NYT report, DarkMatter has been connected to former employees of Israeli surveillance company NSO Group. According to the NYT, the company also employs Emirati intelligence officials and former employees of the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA).


ToTok, introduced several months ago as a secure messaging app and an alternative to other apps such as WhatsApp and Skype, was downloaded millions of times by users throughout the Middle East, Europe, Asia, Africa, and North America, the NYT reported. According to Sunday’s story, which cited American officials and NYT’s own investigation, it is a spying tool used by the government of the United Arab Emirates.

Abu Dhabi. Photo: Shutterstock Abu Dhabi. Photo: Shutterstock


The firm behind ToTok, Breej Holding, is most likely a front company affiliated with DarkMatter, NYT reported, also linking ToTok to Abu Dhabi-based Pax AI, another company suspected as an affiliate of DarkMatter.


In March, NYT reported that a group of former NSO employees—all of whom are also veterans of Israeli signals intelligence unit 8200, the Israeli military’s version of the NSA—were working at a Cypres research facility owned by a DarkMatter affiliate. NSO had hired a private detective to track the former employees following a large wave of resignations in 2017, The report said. The Emirati company hired the Israeli cyber intelligence experts to develop technologies for the UAE, NYT said.


NSO develops spyware that can hijack a smartphone remotely, gaining access to calls, messages, and any other data stored on the device. The Israeli company has made headlines around the world in recent years due to the alleged use of its spyware to surveil journalists, politicians, and human rights activists. In response to these allegations, NSO has repeatedly stated that it sells exclusively to governments and law enforcement agencies and that its spyware has saved tens of thousands of lives.