U.S. puts Israeli firm behind Pegasus tech on blacklist

Apple sues Israeli firm scrutinized over Pegasus spyware tools

Apple announced on Tuesday it has filed suit against an Israeli company that’s been closely monitored for its role in supplying spyware to foreign governments—a number of them on the African continent—and placed on a U.S. entity list for its development of Pegasus surveillance tools.

“NSO Group creates sophisticated, state-sponsored surveillance technology that allows its highly targeted spyware to surveil its victims,” said Apple in a company statement about the lawsuit, filed in the U.S. state of California. It cited a September 21 report by Citizen Lab, one of many organizations to raise concern over the spyware and its potential applications.

“Researchers and journalists have publicly documented a history of this spyware being abused to target journalists, activists, dissidents, academics, and government officials,” Apple said. In the lawsuit, the company called NSO Group “the antithesis of what Apple represents in terms of security and privacy.”

A July 2021 investigative report, coordinated by the Paris-based NGO Forbidden Stories with work done by dozens of journalists in 10 countries, concluded that NSO Group was selling these tools to repressive governments despite claims they are used only for legitimate criminal and terror investigations.

Morocco, Egypt and Rwanda were just three of the nations named in the July report. It was based on a leaked database of some 50,000 phone numbers tracked for surveillance, with 10,000 of them in Morocco alone, according to the Pegasus Project researchers.

Apple’s statement asserts that “the spyware was used to attack a small number of Apple users worldwide.” The company’s lawsuit seeks to ban NSO Group from harming people, in efforts it claims are in violation of U.S. federal and state laws. It also plans to commit US$10 million in funding for cyber research and privacy protection.

NSO Group has consistently maintained that its technologies, used by law enforcement and intelligence agencies, are for legitimate counterterrorism and crime prevention purposes. There was no immediate statement on the Apple lawsuit development.

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