Apple sues Israeli spyware company NSO Group for monitoring users apple

Apple has launched a lawsuit against the NSO Group, the Israeli spyware company that was recently blacklisted by the Biden administration for acting “in violation of US foreign policy and national security interests.”

The move marks a major turnaround for the technology giant, which previously downplayed the spyware threat, and underscores growing concern and frustration among technology companies about the spread of attacks on their customers.

In its complaint, Apple said that NSO’s signature spyware, called Pegasus, had been used to “attack a small number of Apple users worldwide with malicious software and spyware”.

The Pegasus project, an investigation of NSO by The Guardian and other media, coordinated by the French media group Forbidden Stories, has documented dozens of examples where NSO’s spyware was used to attack users of Apple’s iPhone. In some cases, a vulnerability in the company’s iMessage function, which could be penetrated by Pegasus, was used against journalists, human rights activists and other members of civil society.

“At Apple, we always work to defend our users against even the most complex cyber attacks. The steps we are taking today will send a clear message: In a free society, it is unacceptable to use powerful state-sponsored spyware against those who try to make the world a better place, says Ivan Krstić, head of Apple’s security technology. and architecture.

He added: “Apple operates one of the most sophisticated security operations in the world, and we will continue to work tirelessly to protect our users from violent state-sponsored actors such as the NSO Group.”

Apple’s lawsuit also seeks compensation from the NSO for its alleged “reported violations of US federal and state law, which arise as a result of their attempts to target and attack Apple and its users.”

The lawsuit is significant because of Apple’s dominance in the global technology industry. It is also important because the company has chosen to target the manufacturer of spyware – NSO – and not the company’s public customers.

A spokesman for NSO Group said: “Thousands of lives were saved worldwide thanks to NSO Group’s technologies used by customers.

“Pedophiles and terrorists can operate freely in technologically safe havens, and we provide governments with legal tools to combat it. The NSO group will continue to defend the truth.”

The Israeli company has previously sold its surveillance software to Saudi Arabia, Mexico, the United Arab Emirates and other countries with poor human rights statistics. The company has consistently defended its actions by claiming that its surveillance tools are intended to be used by customers to investigate serious crimes and terrorism. It has also claimed that it has no information on how the tools are used against targets.

The development comes months after security researchers at the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto, who have been closely monitoring the targeting of dissidents and journalists with spyware, said they had discovered an exploit they believe has been used to hack into iPhones and other devices. quiet side. February 2021

The discovery was made while researchers were examining the mobile phone of a Saudi activist. This prompted Apple to release an update to fix the vulnerability. The company has also insisted that the attacks “were only aimed at a very small number of users”.

At the time of the announcement, in September, the researchers said that the speed Apple had solved the problem by emphasizing the “absolute seriousness” of their findings.

Apple is not the first US technology company to sue NSO. The Israeli company was sued by WhatsApp in 2019 after claims from the messaging app that Pegasus was used to target 1,400 of the users, including around 100 people who were diplomats, government officials, journalists and activists. Many other technology companies expressed support for WhatsApp in legal letters – including Microsoft, Google and Cisco – but Apple was noticeably absent in a legal file in support of the company.

Apple’s decision to take action against NSO may reflect concerns that the company’s products were not seen as safe in the wake of revelations from the Pegasus project and research from Citizen Lab. The company also announced on Tuesday that it would donate $ 10 million to organizations that conduct cyber-surveillance research and advocacy.

The news marked the latest in a series of negative developments for the company. On Tuesday, Moody’s Investors Service announced that NSO faces an increasing risk of default of around $ 500 million in debt following the Biden administration’s decision to blacklist the company. The credit rating company cut the company’s rating by two notches to Caa2, or eight levels below investment grade.

“Those who follow Citizen Labs research will understand how consistent Apple’s actions are today,” said Ron Deibert, head of Citizen Lab. “Mercenary spyware companies such as the NSO Group have facilitated some of the world’s worst human rights abuses and transnational acts of repression, while enriching themselves and their investors. They claim that they are selling a carefully controlled ‘legal eavesdropping’ tool, but in reality they are offering despotism-as-a-service. “

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