On Tuesday, Apple sued the Israeli spyware maker, which has been at the center of the Pegasus surveillance scandal, in an effort to stop the NSO Group from attacking more than a billion iPhones in circulation.
Costume from the Silicon Valley giant exacerbates the problems facing the NSO, which has sparked controversy over reports that tens of thousands of activists, journalists and politicians have been listed as potential targets of its Pegasus spyware.
Just weeks ago, US authorities blacklisted the NSO to restrict the export of American groups over claims that the Israeli firm “allowed foreign governments to carry out transnational repression.”
“To prevent further abuse and harm to its users, Apple is also seeking a permanent ban on the use of any Apple software, services or devices by the NSO Group,” Apple said in a statement announcing the lawsuit filed in US federal court in California.
“The accused are notorious hackers – 21st century amoral mercenaries who have created sophisticated cyber surveillance mechanisms that allow for routine and egregious abuses,” the iPhone maker wrote in its file.
The NSO has consistently denied any wrongdoing and insisted that its software is intended for use by the authorities only in the fight against terrorism and other crimes.
“Pedophiles and terrorists are free to operate in technology havens, and we provide governments with the legal tools to fight them. NSO will continue to defend the truth, ”the company said in a statement to AFP.
Smartphones infected with Pegasus essentially turn into pocket spy devices, allowing the user to read the target’s messages, view their photos, track their location, and even turn on the camera without them knowing.
Apple says there are 1.65 billion active Apple devices worldwide, including over one billion iPhones.
Apple’s lawsuit is not Big Tech’s first lawsuit – in 2019, Facebook sued the NSO Group, accusing it of using the WhatsApp messenger to cyber espionage against journalists, human rights activists and others.
The lawsuit, filed in a California federal court, alleged that about 1,400 devices were attacked by malware in order to steal valuable information from those using the messaging app.
“This may not be good news for NSO, which is reportedly in danger of defaulting with more than $ 500 million (approximately Rs.3,730 crore) debt, the recent management reshuffle with their CEO and France’s abandonment of a planned purchase following US Sanctions. “said Jake Williams of cybersecurity company BreachQuest.
After initial worries about Pegasus, another wave of concern came when Apple released a patch in September for a vulnerability that allows NSO spyware to infect devices even when users don’t even click on a malicious message or link.
The so-called zero-click attack can invisibly damage the target device and has been discovered by researchers at Citizen Lab, a Canadian cybersecurity organization.
Apple on Tuesday said it is notifying a “small number” of users it has discovered may be targeted for this type of attack.
“Hired spy firms such as the NSO Group have contributed to some of the world’s most serious human rights abuses and acts of transnational repression, while enriching themselves and their investors,” said Ron Deibert, director of Citizen Lab.