A Twist In Time: Spyware Surfaces In Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict

  • AUTHOR: editor
  • POSTED ON: May 31, 2023

Countries being at war is not a new thing. We’ve been experiencing such conflicts for decades. Though players keep changing. But the script remains the same. And this time, we’re talking about Armenia and Azerbaijan battling over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.  But relax; this isn’t your History 101 lesson. Instead, this blog will explore the cyber technology used during the 2021 conflict. And there’s a suspicious involvement of a third player, i.e., a spyware tech group. 

Now, your mind must be thinking, is the use of spyware in an armed conflict a violation of international law? Or where does this act leave the rest of the world? Considering how a few countries keep disturbing peace now and then. 

Well, keep reading, as this blog has addressed everything you should know about this recent spyware update.

Intro To The Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict

But before we jump straight into discussing the 2021 conflict, here’s a little background detail. Nagorno-Karabakh is a region located in  South Caucasus. And since both countries, Azerbaijan and Armenia, claim it to be theirs, that’s where the trouble begins. 

Now, if we talk about the disputed region, the majority of the ethnic Armenians live there. But it’s officially recognized as a part of Azerbaijan. And this difference has caused several tensions over the years. 

A Twist In Time: Spyware Surfaces In Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict

Initially, both countries were a part of the Soviet Union and succeeded in their plan of gaining independence. But this conflict is something they can’t resolve, hence, the constant battles. And it’s actually sad, as both nations have lost so many precious lives to this ongoing dispute. 

Warfare Escalations In May 2021

Now, let’s fast forward to May 2021. After a period of relative calm, the conflict flared up again. Both countries accused each other of attacking military positions and civilian areas.

Though Azerbaijan has taken the responsibility of starting the war first. But they named their actions as consequences of pre-planned strategies by Armenia. And due to the usage of various weapons, such as drones and artillery, the United Nations intervened and called for a ceasefire. 

Physical Battle Followed By Cyberattacks

While things remained peaceful between Armenia and Azerbaijan for some time. But during November 2021 and December 2022, the former complained about cyberattacks.

The targets of these cyberattacks were quite diverse. They included government workers, journalists, and activists. Everything seemed like a well-thought plan for getting sensitive information from important people. 

But guess what? Neither Armenia nor Azerbaijan pulled off these attacks. Instead, the mystery player has turned out to be an outsider, i.e., NSO Group, a spyware tech group. And this information has just been revealed.

A Twist In Time: Spyware Surfaces In Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict

A Comment From The Organizations

Access Now is one of the organizations that participated in the investigation of unusual cyberattacks. And other groups, such as Citizen Lab and Amnesty International, helped too. 

To sum up, everyone is surprised to see the usage of commercial spyware in a war for the first time. And they have also talked about the earlier abuse of NSO spyware in other countries like Mexico, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain. But playing between Armenia and Azerbaijan has topped the charts. 

So, Who’s Done It? 

So, we’ve got our hands on the potential mastermind of this cyber-move. But still, someone has to take responsibility, even though there’s no one in sight. But we can still try to put the puzzles together. 

As expected, both countries have denied using Pegasus spyware, and there’s no direct evidence. But NSO Group revealed the information about Azerbaijan being one of their customers. However, in the turning events, a mobile security researcher, Ruben Muradyan, has hinted at the government of Armenia being the real culprit. 

This brings us to answer the final question in the next section, how does this spyware attack align with International Law policies? 

International Law Violation: Future Tech-Wars & Spyware

Countries running to war over a geographical dispute are not a new thing. But using spyware to carry on cyberattacks is definitely a new thing. And everyone being silent or shifting the blame on each other makes this entire thing quite scary. 

A Twist In Time: Spyware Surfaces In Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict

According to a cybersecurity researcher at Oxford Information Labs, Anna Pagnacco, it’s unclear if the usage of spyware in a war conflict goes against the guidelines of international law. 

Further, she has hinted at international law being silent about the overall situation itself. And while many counties label spying unethical amid peaceful situations. Still, they spy on each other regardless of the situation. So, labeling this act as a crime is confusing since war is a crime, too, yet countries decide to fight each other anyway.

Our Take On This Situation 

Crime or not, using spyware amid a conflict tells a lot about what will happen in the future. Though physical warfare is out of the equation, considering the prominent influence of the UN and other peaceful organizations. But this doesn’t stop countries from opting for advanced technology to carry out the dirty work. 

Anyway, since there’s no clear evidence, for now, we can’t blame Azerbaijan or Armenia. So, let’s see what the future developments in the same case would tell! 

Updated May 31, 2023
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