Pegasus spyware on State Department phones: What you need to know

smartphone surveillance graphic

Angela Lang/CNET

It’s a doozy of a case in digital spying. Security researchers have revealed evidence of attempted or successful installations of Pegasus, software made by Israel-based cybersecurity company NSO Group, on 37 phones belonging to activists, rights workers, journalists and businesspeople. They appear to have been targets of secret surveillance by software that’s intended to help governments pursue criminals and terrorists.

One of the most powerful objections to Pegasus came from the US government, and now one reason for the wrath could have emerged Friday: The spyware was found on the phones of at least nine State Department employees whom Apple notified about the hack, Reuters reported. The officials were either based in Uganda or involved in matters associated with the African country, but it’s unclear who hacked the phones, the report said, citing unnamed sources. The New York Times corroborated the report, saying at least 11 employees were affected.

Pegasus has been a politically explosive issue that’s put Israel under pressure from activists and from governments worried about misuse of the software. In November, the US federal government took much stronger action, blocking sale of US technology to NSO by putting the company on the government’s Entity List. NSO has suspended some countries’ Pegasus privileges but has sought to defend its software and controls it tries to place on its use. 

Apple sued NSO Group in November, seeking to bar the company’s software from being used on Apple devices, require NSO to locate and delete any private data its app collected, and disclose the…