NSO Group Spyware Hits at Least 9 US State Department Phones

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israeli spyware Developer NSO Group has faced increasing legal pressure and controversy as its hacking tools continue to be misused by repressive regimes and law enforcement around the world. Now Apple has informed a group of iPhone users, including at least nine US State Department employees, that their devices running the NSO tool were compromised in recent months by unknown hackers.

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sources told Reuters, which previously reported News, that affected US government officials were working in Uganda or on subjects related to the country. Ugandan political figures also seemed to targeted in the campaign, Attacks using NSO’s Pegasus spyware, which works on both Apple’s iOS mobile operating system and Google’s Android OS, have been found for years. Once installed on a device, Pegasus can track a user’s location, activate their microphone, steal data, and more.

This latest example of its abuse underscores exactly what privacy and human rights advocates have long warned: that NSO does not have enough controls to limit whether its customers use the powerful devices it sells. How to use And that the company’s repeated assurances to the contrary — including that its spyware cannot be used against devices registered with US phone numbers — ring hollow.


“Once the software is sold to a licensed customer, NSO has no way of knowing who the customers’ targets are. As such, we were not aware of the matter and could not have been,” NSO said. Group spokesman Liron Brooke said in a statement that the company “has decided to immediately terminate relevant customers’ access to the system.” was used.”

Claims of plausible denial are common to the NSO group. one in july Interview with Forbes, CEO Shalev Hulio likens his company to an automaker that later sells cars to drunken drivers. But powerful spyware run by governments is far from an automobile, and NSO critics say the company has never done enough to mitigate the inevitable abuses its flagship product invites.

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Jake Williams, an incident responder and former NSA hacker, says, “To the extent that NSO’s claims of limiting targeting of its customers were ever credible, this suggests that the railings in NSO’s product were inadequate.” “It was completely predictable. When governments have capabilities sold to them by NSOs and their intelligence requirements are not met, we should absolutely expect those governments to use any tools at their disposal. Use the.

WhatsApp, the secure messaging app owned by Facebook’s parent company Meta, sued NSO Group in 2019 after its tools were allegedly used to hack thousands of victims by taking advantage of the service. joined the fray with Apple its own suit Last week. And in early November, the US Commerce Department cleared the NSO Group over its Pegasus spyware abuse.

“You have to wonder if these State Department attacks were the reason why NSOs were sanctioned,” Williams says.

Privacy advocates and researchers said, however, that the US government’s response is long overdue, with several high-profile incidents of targeted surveillance involving NSO hacking tools.

“For too long, the US government looked the other way, even though Pegasus was used against Americans and US-affiliated targets such as Jeff Bezos and slain allies. Washington Post Columnist Jamal Khashoggi,” says Rianna Pfefferkorn, a research scholar at the Stanford Internet Observatory. The NSO Group has strongly denied the involvement of its software in any of these cases. “Those events should have already conclusively demonstrated that this company operates with impunity and is not on the side of angels as it likes to claim. NSO’s threat to our national security It is no longer possible to ignore.”

NSO’s claim that it will take legal action against customers who use its devices for purposes other than terrorism investigation and law enforcement is also of questionable value.

“This is unlikely to be an effective strategy, either for achieving restitution or as a deterrent,” Williams says. “We should expect that most government organizations NSOs can take legal action to obtain protection in their local jurisdiction.”

The impact of US sanctions and WhatsApp and Apple lawsuits on NSO’s business remains to be seen. So far, it seems, its customers have only gotten more excited over time.

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