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Spyware Scandal Illuminates Cyber Weaponry

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By: Mary Jander


Israeli news outlet Calcalist reports that Pegasus spyware from NSO Group, based in Tel Aviv, was used by Israeli police to track and extract intelligence about political dissidents, protesters against former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and ordinary citizens – allegedly without permission. Pegasus infiltrates mobile phones, exposing everything on them, without the need for any covert opt-in by users.

The news spotlights the ongoing controversy swirling around surveillance technologies sold to governments around the world, often with appalling consequences. NSO, for instance, was accused of allegedly selling Pegasus to the Saudi government for tens of millions of dollars prior to the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

By November 2021, enough allegations had been made about NSO's contributions to human rights abuses that the U.S. government added it to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Entity List of firms whose dealings go contrary to U.S. interests. Another firm, Candiru, which also makes spyware for computers, was also listed as “malicious” in the Commerce announcement:

“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.”

Defense of Offense

Both NSO and Candiru have been campaigning to counter the claims made about them. NSO has repeatedly maintained that it vets its customers assiduously, discontinues the use of Pegasus wherever it’s found to be used for spurious intent, and operates only with the interests of locating terrorists and criminals.

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