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Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Apple sues Israeli spyware firm NSO Group


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

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

According to NSO Group, its tools are designed to target terrorists and criminals.

However, it is also said to have been used on activists, politicians, and journalists.

According to NSO Group, Pegasus is only supplied to military, law enforcement, and intelligence agencies in countries with good human-rights records.

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

This action from Apple follows criticism from other tech firms including Microsoft, Meta Platforms (formerly Facebook), Google-owner Alphabet and Cisco Systems.

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 prohibiting NSO Group from using any Apple software, services, or devices,” the company stated.

Apple takes pride in its privacy policies. It’s a big selling point for its products.

So it’s not surprising that a company that allegedly attempted to circumvent Apple’s security features would oppose the company.

But that isn’t the only reason Apple is taking a stand.

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

According to NSO, it only works with organisations that have a good human rights record.

In this way, the company has attempted to differentiate itself from underground hackers engaged in nefarious activities.

Apple is rejecting that distinction by suing NSO Group.

Apple is emphasising that it doesn’t matter who you are; if you’re a group attempting to hack into an Apple product, they’ll take action – regardless of your motivations.

But there’s a little more to it than that.

Apple will believe it is easier and more politically acceptable to sue a private company rather than the governments accused of using the technology.

Apple claimed in its complaint, filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, that NSO’s tools were used in “coordinated 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 claimed that the NSO group created over 100 bogus Apple ID user credentials in order to carry out its attacks.

The tech behemoth stated that its servers were not hacked, but that NSO abused and manipulated the servers in order to deliver the attacks on Apple users.

Apple also claimed that NSO Group was directly involved in the spyware’s consulting services, but NSO claims that it only sells its tools to clients.

Apple claimed it was forced to engage in a never-ending arms race with NSO because the Israeli company was “constantly updating their malware and exploits to overcome Apple’s own security upgrades.”

The iPhone maker stated that it will donate $10 million, as well as any damages recovered in the lawsuit, to cybersurveillance research organisations such as Citizen Lab, a University of Toronto group that discovered NSO’s attacks.

In response, NSO Group stated, “Thousands of lives have been saved around the world as a result of NSO Group’s technologies used by its customers.”

“Paedophiles and terrorists can operate freely in technological safe havens, and we provide governments with legal tools to combat [them].”

“The NSO group will continue to fight for the truth.”

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