The NSO Group is an Israel-based security firm dealing in hacking tools that law enforcement agencies use to hack smartphones. The company came under fire earlier this year. Security researchers found that attackers used the Pegasus family of hacking programs to target individuals. The Pegasus hack allowed nation-states to spy on iPhones without user knowledge via sophisticated attacks that leave no trace. A New York Times journalist recently detailed his experience with the hack. He explained that he had no way of knowing who hacked him or what they had stolen. All he knew was that they got into his iPhone. The NSO Group denied the reports every step of the way.
NSO’s denials apparently weren’t enough to convince the US government, though. The US has now placed the Israeli company on the infamous entity list. As a result, the NSO Group can’t do any business with American companies, whether on the hardware or software side.
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The US ban
The US announced on Wednesday that it added four companies to the entity list, including NSO Group. Israeli surveillance company Candiru is also on the list. Russia’s Positive Technologies and Singapore’s Computer Security Initiative Consultancy are the others. Both trafficked in hacking tools that threaten “the privacy and security of individuals and organizations worldwide.”
The commerce department said the new additions to the entity list are part of the Biden administration’s “efforts to put human rights at the center of US foreign policy, including by working to stem the proliferation of digital tools used for repression.” Here’s the part that concerns the NSO Group:
NSO Group and Candiru (Israel) were added to the Entity List based on evidence that these entities developed and supplied spyware to foreign governments that used these tools to maliciously target government officials, journalists, businesspeople, activists, academics, and embassy workers. These tools have also enabled foreign governments to conduct transnational repression, which is the practice of authoritarian governments targeting dissidents, journalists and activists outside of their sovereign…