The US Department of Commerce has issued an order prohibiting American companies from selling technology to NSO, citing reports that the group’s Pegasus spyware is being used against journalists, government officials, activists, and others. The corporation has been added to the Entity List, according to the regulator, since its tool undermines “the rules-based international order” when supplied to repressive foreign regimes.
Pegasus is a tool that infects people without their knowledge, giving police and intelligence services access to a phone’s text messages, photographs, and passwords while leaving no trace. The Washington Post reported in July that the malware could infect a target’s phone with a single, invisible text message: the target wouldn’t have to click on a link or take any action to be infected, and their fully updated phone would be infected.
The Pegasus Project, a group of journalists who disclosed a list of names allegedly tied to the spyware, brought NSO’s Pegasus spyware into the spotlight recently. Journalists, activists, leaders of state, and others from throughout the world were among those on the list, whom NSO claims its software should not be used to target. The Pegasus Project also examined the phones of a few journalists and discovered evidence of spyware installation – almost probably by a government agency, given NSO claims that government agencies are the only clients it will sell its software and services to.
Pegasus had made news in the past as well. Journalists in Mexico were apparently targeted by the programme, WhatsApp sued NSO for allegedly utilising a vulnerability in the messaging service to hack people’s phones, and the FBI is believed to have investigated the company in connection with Jeff Bezos’ phone being hacked.
NSO has been added to the entity list, which prevents US companies from exporting products to it, because it “poses a significant risk of being or becoming involved in activities that are contrary to the United States’ national security or foreign policy interests,” according to the Department of Commerce (pdf).
This is most likely related to US foreign policy – NSO has stated that its tool can’t be used to target American phone numbers, and the Department of Commerce and Pegasus Project haven’t refuted that claim.
On Thursday, NSO isn’t the only corporation to be added to the entity list. Another Israeli IT firm, Candiru, has been blacklisted for selling malware (which is purportedly used for identical purposes). Two new companies, one from Russia and the other from Singapore, have been named by the Department of Commerce as being involved in the sale of hacking tools.
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