Apple suing ‘hacker-for-hire’ firm NSO that Canadian cyber watchdog Citizen Lab warned them about

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Tech giant Apple announced Tuesday that it is suing Israel’s NSO Group, seeking to stop the world’s most notorious hacker-for-hire company from breaking into Apple’s products, such as the iPhone.

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Apple said in a complaint filed in federal court in California that NSO Group employees are “the immoral mercenaries of the 21st century who have built highly sophisticated cyber-monitoring systems that routinely and openly invite abuse.”

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Apple said spyware from NSO Group, called Pegasus, was used to attack a small number of Apple customers around the world.

“State-sponsored actors like the NSO Group spend millions of dollars on sophisticated surveillance technologies without effective accountability. This needs to change,” said Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering.

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NSO Group has broadly denied wrongdoing, saying its products have been used by governments to prevent terrorism and crime. The company did not immediately return a request for comment on Tuesday.

Apple’s move comes after cybersecurity watchdog group Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto warned Apple of a vulnerability in its software that could inject a certain type of spyware without the user doing anything or knowing about it. may allow the devices to be infected.

Edward Snowden, a contractor in exile, credited the discovery to Citizen Lab.

NSO claims that it has created spyware for law enforcement purposes.

Ron Diebert, director of Citizen Lab, said in a statement that “for-hire spyware firms such as NSO Group have facilitated some of the world’s worst human rights abuses and acts of international repression while enriching themselves and their investors.” “They claim they are selling a carefully controlled “legitimate interception” tool, but what they are really providing is autocracy-as-a-service.”

This is the latest blow to the hacking firm, which was recently blacklisted by the US Department of Commerce and is currently being prosecuted by social media giant Facebook.

How Pegasus works

Security researchers have found that Pegasus is being used to break into the phones of human rights activists, journalists and even members of Catholic clergy around the world.

Pegasus sneaks into phones to clear personal and location data and secretly controls smartphone microphones and cameras. Researchers have found several examples of NSO Group tools using so-called “zero clicks” to infect targeted mobile phones without any user interaction.

The Biden administration announced this month that NSO Group and another Israeli cybersecurity firm called Candiru were being added to the “entity list,” which limits their access to American components and technology by requiring government permission for exports. Is.

This month, security researchers revealed that Pegasus spyware had been detected on the cellphones of six Palestinian human rights activists. Mexican prosecutors also recently announced that they have arrested a businessman on charges that he used Pegasus spyware to spy on a journalist.

Facebook has sued NSO Group over its use of a similar exploit, which was allegedly infiltrated through its globally popular encrypted WhatsApp messaging app. A US federal appeals court this month issued a ruling that rejected NSO Group’s attempt to quash the lawsuit.

Apple also announced Tuesday that it is donating US$10 million to cyber surveillance researchers and advocates, as well as any damages won in the NSO Group lawsuit.

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