Apple Sues Israeli Spyware Firm NSO Over Surveillance of Users

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A logo adorns a wall on a branch of the Israeli NSO Group company, near the southern town of Sapir, in August.
A logo adorns a wall on a branch of the Israeli NSO Group company, near the southern town of Sapir, in August.Credit: Sebastian Scheiner,AP

Apple said on Tuesday it has filed a lawsuit against Israeli cyber firm NSO Group and its parent company OSY Technologies for the surveillance and targeting of Apple users with its Pegasus spyware.

The iPhone maker said it is also seeking to ban NSO Group from using any Apple software, services or devices to prevent further abuse.

NSO's Pegasus software gives clients total access to target's cellphones and has reportedly been used by several governments to monitor the phones of reporters, lawyers, opposition politicians and civil society workers.  

“State-sponsored actors like the NSO Group spend millions of dollars on sophisticated surveillance technologies without effective accountability. That needs to change,” Apple's announcement quoted Craig Federighi, its senior vice president of software engineering, as saying. 

In its complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, Apple said NSO's tools were used in "concerted efforts in 2021 to target and attack Apple customers" and that "U.S. citizens have been surveilled by NSO's spyware on mobile devices that can and do cross international borders."

Apple said that NSO group created more than 100 fake Apple ID user credentials to carry out its attacks.

On Monday, credit rating agency Moody’s said NSO stands at risk of defaulting on around $500 million worth of debt, which would force it into insolvency.

On November 3, the U.S. Commerce Department said that it was adding the company to a trade blacklist, restricting its access to U.S. technology and potentially hobbling its ability to do business. 

Following the U.S. Commerce Department announcement, The New York Times reported that Jerusalem would petition Washington to remove the company from the blacklist, citing two senior Israeli officials in reporting that the Israeli government considers its software a crucial component of its foreign policy and national security.

NSO’s senior management has lobbied Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and other ministers from his government to pressure the U.S. government to lift sanctions imposed against the company.

Haaretz contributed to this article. 

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