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Apple sues Israeli spyware firm NSO Group

31st Dec 2021

Elham Asaad Buaras

American software giant, Apple, has on November 23, filed a lawsuit against Israeli spyware maker NSO Group and its parent company over alleged “flagrant violations” of US law stemming from efforts to target iPhone users.

The Pegasus spyware, once installed, can read text messages and other data on the phone, track its location with GPS, and access the microphone and camera.

In its complaint, filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of California, Apple said NSO’s tools were used in “concerted efforts in 2021 to target and attack Apple customers” and that “US citizens have been surveilled by NSO’s spyware on mobile devices that can and do cross international borders.”

Apple’s legal complaint alleges that NSO Group implemented a since-patched Security exploit known as ForcedEntry, in its spyware that allowed its users to break into Apple devices and install Pegasus.
The suit is the latest against the beleaguered NSO Group after WhatsApp and Facebook parent company Meta took action in October.

Apple said it is seeking a permanent injunction to prevent NSO Group from ever again using any of its devices, software or services. This is after the Israeli firm’s Pegasus spyware was used on Apple users.

“State-sponsored actors like the NSO Group spend millions of dollars on sophisticated surveillance technologies without effective accountability. That 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. While these cybersecurity threats only impact a very small number of our customers, we take any attack on our users very seriously, and we’re constantly working to strengthen the security and privacy protections in iOS,” he added.

Apple said it would be contributing $10 million, as well as an unspecified amount of damages it is seeking in court, to organisations that specialise in combatting spyware.

Ron Deibert, Director of the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, hailed Apple’s legal action, saying it is a step towards holding NSO Group “accountable for their abuses,” and expressing a hope that it will “help to bring justice to all who have been victimised by NSO Group’s reckless behaviour.”

“Mercenary spyware firms like NSO Group have facilitated some of the world’s worst human rights abuses and acts of transnational repression while enriching themselves and their investors,” he said.
NSO has maintained that it only sells its spyware to governments only for lawful purposes.

However, it has repeatedly been found to be at the centre of controversy, including efforts to spy on journalists, dissidents and heads of state. The US sanctioned the company on October 3 after it determined NSO and fellow Israeli surveillance firm Candiru developed and supplied spyware to foreign governments that used this tool to maliciously target government officials, journalists, business people, activists, academics, and embassy workers.”

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