Apple sues NSO Group for targeting users as spyware company’s woes escalate

WASHINGTON – Apple on Tuesday sued Israeli spyware maker NSO Group for targeting users of its devices, saying the company at the center of the Pegasus surveillance scandal must be held accountable.

The Silicon Valley giant’s lawsuit adds new problems to NSO, which has been engulfed in controversy over reports that tens of thousands of activists, journalists and politicians were listed as potential targets for its Pegasus spyware .

Just a few weeks ago, the United States Department of Commerce announced that it was blacklisting NSO, restricting the Herzliya-based company’s links to American companies over allegations that it ” allowed foreign governments to carry out transnational repression ”.

“To prevent further abuse and harm to its users, Apple is also seeking a permanent injunction to ban the NSO Group from using any Apple software, service or device,” Apple said in a statement announcing the lawsuit.

“NSO Group creates sophisticated, state-sponsored surveillance technology that enables its highly targeted spyware to monitor its victims,” he added.

Apple also appeared to point the finger at Israel, with its vice president Craig Federighi saying in a statement that “state-sponsored players like the NSO Group are spending millions of dollars on sophisticated surveillance technology without effective accountability. This must change.

Following the initial concern over Pegasus, a wave of concern arose when iPhone maker Apple in September released a fix for a weakness that can allow spyware to infect devices without users even clicking. a malicious message or link.

In this file photo from September 28, 2021, people try out the latest iPhone 13 handsets at an Apple store in Beijing. (AP Photo / Andy Wong)

The so-called “zero-click” is capable of silently corrupting the targeted device and has been identified by researchers at Citizen Lab, a cybersecurity watchdog organization in Canada.

Apple is also seeking unspecified damages from the NSO Group for what it says was the time and money it took to respond to the spyware maker’s alleged abuse of its products, adding in its statement that he would donate any payment to organizations that expose such spyware.

“It’s Apple that says, ‘If you do this, if you arm our software against innocent users, researchers, dissidents, activists or journalists, Apple will not knock you out,'” the chief said. Apple Security Ivan Krstic to the New York Times on Monday.

This is the second time that NSO Group has been targeted by a large US company, with Facebook suing the Israeli company in 2019 for allegedly targeting users of its WhatsApp messaging app.

Earlier this month, a United States appeals court dismissed a petition by the NSO group to dismiss Facebook’s lawsuit against it. In a 3-0 vote, the court rejected NSO’s defense that it “could claim foreign sovereign immunity,” opening the company to additional lawsuits such as one filed by Apple on Tuesday.

Apple’s lawsuit comes a day after rating agency Moody’s released figures showing NSO Group is at increasing risk of defaulting around $ 500 million in debts due to upcoming cash flow issues. to the blacklisting of the United States.

A branch of the Israeli company NSO Group near the town of Sapir in southern Israel on August 24, 2021 (AP Photo / Sebastian Scheiner)

The NSO group has faced a torrent of international criticism over allegations it helps governments spy on dissidents and rights activists. NSO insists that its product is only intended to help countries fight crime and terrorism.

The company’s flagship spyware, Pegasus, is considered one of the most powerful cybersurveillance tools available on the market, giving operators the ability to effectively take full control of a target’s phone, download all device data or activate its camera or microphone. unbeknownst to the user.

Ricky Ben David contributed to this report.

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