Apple sues Israeli spyware group NSO

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Apple is suing NSO Group Technologies, an Israeli military-grade spyware maker that created surveillance software used to target the mobile phones of journalists, political dissidents and human rights activists, so that it could be used to use Apple products. to be prevented.

The iPhone maker’s lawsuit, filed Tuesday in federal court in California, alleges that Israel’s largest cyber warfare company, NSO, spied on and targeted Apple users. It is seeking damages as well as an order restraining NSO from using any Apple software, devices or services.

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NSO develops and sells its own spyware, known as Pegasus, that exploits vulnerabilities in iPhone and Android smartphones and allows those that allow it to infiltrate a target’s device.

Apple’s suite provided new details about a recently patched vulnerability, codenamed FORCEDENTRY, that was used by NSO’s customers for nearly eight months to distribute code to an unspecified number of targets.

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NSO said its software has “saved thousands of lives … around the world” and that its technology helped governments “catch pedophiles and terrorists”.

The company has never provided any evidence to support the claims, citing confidentiality agreements with government agencies, which NSO sells with the approval of Israeli authorities.

According to two people familiar with the request, it recently appealed to the Israeli government to help lobby the White House to remove NSO from the US Commerce Department’s blacklist for selling a technology that would result in “international repression”.

It is not known whether the Israeli government has acted on that request.

The US government announced this month that it has added NSO Group and rival Tel Aviv-based Candiru to a trade blacklist that would restrict exports of US hardware and software to companies, as it cracks down on the global hacking-for-hire industry . ,

Apple’s lawsuit comes as Moody’s cut NSO’s debt to level eight, two degrees below investment grade, indicating a high risk of default on $500 million in debt.

The company, Moody’s said, had completely built up a bank credit line, and tight liquidity meant NSO could break a covenant on its debt, leading to a default.

Pegasus was revealed in July to be used to target the smartphones of dozens of journalists, human rights activists and politicians, according to an investigation by a consortium of newspapers.

“State-sponsored actors such as the NSO group spend millions of dollars on sophisticated surveillance technologies without effective accountability. This needs to change,” Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, said in a statement. “Apple devices are the most secure consumer hardware on the market—but private companies developing state-sponsored spyware have become even more dangerous.”

Apple’s complaint comes just weeks after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that NSO and its parent company Q were not cyber-sovereign entities and that Facebook had therefore been accused of targeting users of its WhatsApp messaging service on NSO. The allegation was not saved from an earlier lawsuit brought by Facebook. ,

In the complaint, Apple called the NSO a group of “notorious” and “amoral” hackers as “mercenaries” creating cyber-surveillance machinery “that invites routine and major abuse” for commercial gain. works.

The US company accused NSO of violating several federal and state laws “resulting from their serious, deliberate and concerted efforts to target and attack Apple customers in 2011.”

Apple released an emergency software update in September after a Pegasus vulnerability was uncovered by researchers at the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab.

© 2021 The Financial Times Limited, All rights reserved Not to be redistributed, copied or modified in any way.

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