June 9, 2023

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Apple sues Israeli spyware firm NSO Group

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A woman uses her phone outside the offices of NSO

Apple is suing Israeli spyware firm NSO Group and its parent company for allegedly targeting iPhone users with a hacking tool.

NSO’s Pegasus software can infect both iPhones and Android devices, allowing operators to extract messages, photos and emails, record calls and secretly activate microphones and cameras.

NSO Group said its tools were made to target terrorists and criminals.

But it has allegedly also been used on activists, politicians and journalists.

NSO Group says it only supplies Pegasus to military, law enforcement and intelligence agencies from countries with good human-rights records.

However earlier this month, US officials placed the company on a trade blacklist, saying the software had “enabled foreign governments to conduct transnational repression, which is the practice of authoritarian governments targeting dissidents, journalists and activists”.

Apple’s move follows a lawsuit launched in 2019 by WhatsApp which is still working its way through the US court system.

In its initial court filing, WhatsApp said NSO Group “developed their malware in order to access messages and other communications after they were decrypted on target devices”.

Other tech firms, including Microsoft, Meta Platforms (formerly Facebook), Google-owner Alphabet and Cisco Systems have all previously criticised NSO. 

  • NSO Group: Israeli spyware company added to US trade blacklist.
  • Pegasus spyware seller: Blame our customers not us, for hacking.

In a blog post announcing the California lawsuit, Apple said it wanted to hold NSO Group and its parent company OSY Technologies “accountable for the surveillance and targeting of Apple users”.

“To prevent further abuse and harm to its users, Apple is also seeking a permanent injunction to ban NSO Group from using any Apple software, services, or devices,” it said.

Apple prides itself on its privacy. It’s a major selling point for its devices. 

So it’s not totally surprising that a company that has allegedly sought to bypass Apple security features might antagonise the giant. 

That’s not the only reason Apple is making a stand though. 

Not all hackers are considered equals. NSO Group has government clients, or as Apple puts it, is “state-sponsored”.

NSO claims it only works with agencies with good human rights records.

In that way the company has tried to distinguish itself from underground hackers doing nefarious activities. 

By suing NSO Group Apple is rejecting that distinction.

Apple is making the point that it doesn’t matter who you are, if you’re a group trying to hack into an Apple product they’ll take action – whatever the motives. 

But there’s a bit more depth to it than that.

Apple will feel it’s easier, and more politically palatable, to sue a private company, rather than the governments who are allegedly using the tech.

By: Sheila Satori Mensa

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