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Israel's spyware hacks phones of US officials

A woman checks the website of Israel-made Pegasus spyware at an office in the Cypriot capital Nicosia on July 21, 2021. - Reports that Israel-made Pegasus spyware has been used to monitor activists, journalists and politicians around the world highlight the diplomatic risks of nurturing and exporting "oppressive technology", experts warned. Private Israeli firm NSO Group has denied media reports its Pegasus software is linked to the mass surveillance of journalists and rights defenders, and insisted that all sales of its technology are approved by Israel's defence ministry. (Photo by Mario GOLDMAN / AFP) (Photo by MARIO GOLDMAN/AFP via Getty Images)
A woman checks the website of Israel-made Pegasus spyware at an office in the Cypriot capital Nicosia 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."

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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.

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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.

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Asia & AmericasIsraelMiddle EastNewsUS
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