Tech Giants vs. NSO: Google, Microsoft and Others Join Facebook's Battle Against Israeli Spytech Firm

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The NSO Group shows its wares at a expo in Europe
The NSO Group shows its wares at a expo in EuropeCredit: Forbidden Stories

A coalition of the world’s leading technology corporations, including Microsoft, Google, Cisco, LinkedIn, Github and VMware, have filed an amicus brief backing Facebook’s legal battle against Israeli spyware firm NSO.

Facebook is suing the NSO Group in U.S. federal court for allegedly targeting users of its encrypted messaging service WhatsApp with highly sophisticated spyware known as Pegausus.

In the amicus brief, the tech giants asked to join the social media platform’s suit against the spyware firm. The Internet Association, a tech lobbying body that represents the likes of Twitter and Amazon, also joined the suit, highlighting the full support Facebook has from Silicon Valley in its fight against the Israeli hackers-for-hire company. 

Facebook is demanding in the suit that NSO be denied access to Facebook’s services and systems and seeks unspecified damages.

The suit was filed in 2019 and is based on a joint investigation by Facebook and Citizen Lab that alleged that Pegasus used a “zero day” loophole in WhatsApp that allowed NSO to hack into the phones of 1,4000 users. Citizen Lab also revealed that NSO may have also hacked the phones of dozens of human rights activists across the world. 

NSO’s spyware has repeatedly been found deployed to target such people, though the company denies the allegations. Citizen Lab says the targeted phone numbers were in countries including Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and Mexico. Only this week, Citizen Lab said that Al-Jazeera journalists were also targeted by NSO.

NSO has failed to convince the courts to throw the suit out. 

NSO Group founder and CEO Shalev HulioCredit: AMMAR AWAD/Reuters

In the brief itself, filed in California, the tech firms warned of the risks posed by NSO’s technology. "As more companies develop these tools and more governments buy them, the risk they will fall into the wrong hands increases exponentially and threatens all of us," they wrote, asking the court "decline to extend foreign sovereign immunity to the use of cyber-surveillance tools by private companies." 

The suit comes after a number of recent reports - including in Haaretz - have alleged NSO’s tech was used against activists and journalists. An international investigative journalism collaboration organized by Forbidden Stories called The Cartel Project recently suggested the firm’s technology may have also reached drug cartels in Mexico after it was sold to local police forces. NSO denied the allegations. 

Gil Naveh, a local spokesperson for Amnesty International in Israel, praised the move, and said: “The mountain of existing evidence [against NSO] screams to high heavens: The Defense Ministry is not doing its job and is not providing oversight of NSO specifically but also defense exports in general. This great shame on Israel could have been prevented if Israel’s judicial system would have done its job. Instead, it serves as a rubber stamp for the defense establishment. This conduct by the legal system and defense ministry allows private billionaires to flourish at the expense of innocent people across the world, while also staining Israel’s tech industry and putting Israeli citizens at risk, as it is in their name this is allegedly done."

AP provided background for this report 

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