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Israel’s spyware hacks phones of US officials

December 4, 2021 at 10:16 am

The website of Israel-made Pegasus spyware at an office on July 21, 2021 [MARIO GOLDMAN/AFP via Getty Images]

The iPhones of at least nine senior US officials have been hacked by sophisticated spyware developed by Israeli-based NSO Group, Reuters revealed on Friday.

The US officials are employees of the US State Department, Reuters reported, and the iPhones were hacked in recent months.

Reuters disclosed two of its sources stating that the US State Department employees were either based in Uganda or focused on matters relating to Uganda.

Commenting on the issue, the NSO Group affirmed: “If our investigation shall show these actions indeed happened with NSO’s tools, such customer will be terminated permanently and legal actions will take place.”

READ: Calls of bias as Siri fails to answer questions on Palestine

It also added that NSO will: “Cooperate with any relevant government authority and present the full information we will have.”

According to Reuters, officials at the Embassy of the Republic of Uganda in Washington have not made comment, and Apple has declined to comment.

A State Department spokesperson declined to comment on the intrusions, instead, pointed to the Commerce Department’s recent decision to place the Israeli company on an entity list, making it harder for US companies to do business with them.

Israel's Pegasus spyware global weapon to silence critics? - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Israel’s Pegasus spyware global weapon to silence critics? – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

NSO software is capable of not only capturing encrypted messages, photos and other sensitive information from phones, but also turning them into recording devices to monitor surroundings, based on product manuals reviewed by Reuters.

NSO has been reported as stating that its technology helps stop terrorism and that the group has installed controls to curb spying against innocent targets.

An unidentified senior Biden administration official, as reported by Reuters, said the threat to US personnel abroad was one of the reasons that the administration was cracking down on companies such as NSO and pursuing new global discussions on spying limits.

READ: Could an Apple lawsuit mean the end of Israeli cybercriminals NSO?

The official added that they have seen “systemic abuse” in multiple countries involving NSO’s Pegasus spyware.

In a statement, the Israeli Embassy in Washington declared that targeting US officials would seriously breach its rules.

“Cyber products, like the one mentioned, are supervised and licensed to be exported to governments only for purposes related to counter-terrorism and severe crimes,” an embassy spokesperson confirmed.

It is worth noting that NSO has sought the help of Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, to remove its name from a US blacklist.