The iPhones of at least nine US State Department officials were recently hacked by a government using NSO Group spyware, new report says that raises serious questions about tool use surveillance against US government officials around the world.
The complaint, which was reported by Reuters, comes just weeks after the Biden administration blacklisted NSO and said the surveillance firm acted “contrary to foreign policy and national security interests. the United States “.
At least nine State Department officials have been hacked into the attack in recent months, Reuters said, and the individuals targeted were either based in Uganda or focused on issues concerning the African country. East. Reuters said it could not determine which NSO client was behind the attack.
NEWA’s National Security Council spokesperson said in response to the Reuters report: “We were deeply concerned that commercial spyware like NSO Group software poses a serious risk of counterintelligence and security threats. security for U.S. personnel, which is one of the reasons the Biden-Harris administration has placed several companies involved in the development and proliferation of these tools on the Commerce Department’s entity list.
The news comes just days after Apple took legal action against NSO and reports revealed that the tech giant began alerting victims around the world who had been compromised by the hack tool. Once NSO’s spyware – known as Pegasus – is successfully launched, it can hack a mobile phone and intercept all communications, including encrypted messages. It can also turn any phone into a listening device because once infected a Pegasus user can remotely control a cell phone’s recorder and camera.
In a statement issued in response to the Reuters article, NSO said it had decided to “immediately terminate access of affected customers to the system, due to the seriousness of the allegations.”
Pressed by the Guardian to identify customers who had been cut, a spokesperson for NSO said the company would not disclose information about its customers.
NSO said it had not received any information on the specific phone numbers that were targeted in the attack and had no indication that NSO’s tools were used in this case.
“In addition to the independent investigation, NSO will cooperate with any relevant government authority and present any information we have,” the company said. NSO also reiterated that its technologies cannot work on US numbers, but said it had “no way of knowing” who its customers’ targets are and therefore would not have been aware of the matter. .
Researchers at the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab recently uncovered the code behind an NSO exploit that was allegedly used to infect iPhones last July. The exploit, which was then quickly patched by Apple, used a vulnerability in the company’s iMessage feature on all Apple products.
NSO has signaled that he will seek to convince the Biden administration to remove his name from the blacklist. But the latest revelation raises serious doubts that it will happen anytime soon.
Apple said it had no comment on the latest allegations.
While the report alleges confirmed hacking of US officials by a user of ONS monitoring tools, this is not the first time that US citizens have been targeted. In July, the Pegasus Project, an NSO investigation by the Guardian and other media, which worked in coordination with the French nonprofit media group Forbidden Stories, revealed evidence of attacks on American journalists. and others.
Among the Americans who were hacked was Carine Kanimba, an activist and daughter of Paul Rusesabagina, the imprisoned Rwandan activist who gained international fame for inspiring the movie Hotel Rwanda, about the Rwandan genocide. Kanimba is one of dozens of individuals strongly suspected of having been targeted. Rwandan authorities have firmly denied having access to the NSO Group’s technology, but have long been suspected of being clients of the Israeli firm.
Project Pegasus also reported that the US phone number for a senior US diplomat, Robert Malley, who is currently the Biden administration’s envoy to Iran and one of the administration’s main negotiators of the deal. Obama, along with Iran, appears to have been chosen as a person of interest by an NSO client. There is no evidence that Malley was hacked and NSO has firmly denied that the leaked database at the heart of Project Pegasus was linked to the company or its customers.
NSO said its government customers are barred from deploying its software against US numbers because it has been made “technically impossible.”
Reuters reported that most of the “victims” who were recently told by Apple that they had been hacked were “easily identifiable” as U.S. government employees by their associated email addresses, which ended in state.gov.
A senior Biden administration official, speaking to Reuters on condition that he was not identified, said the threat to US personnel overseas was one of the reasons the administration was cracking down companies such as NSO and was pursuing a new global discussion of espionage limits. The official added that they had seen “systemic abuse” in several countries involving NSO’s Pegasus spyware.