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Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Israeli NSO spyware used to hack US State Department officials phones

Revelation comes just weeks after the Biden administration placed NSO on a US blacklist

If the latest hacking of ambassadors is confirmed, it will first represent the Israeli group’s monitoring software used against American officials; the attacker is unknown

The Israeli spyware software company NSO Group was reportedly used by an anonymous hacker to rob cell phones of at least nine U.S. Department employees, which – if confirmed – would be the first time that the company’s disrupted technology was used to target U.S. officials.

The robbery was aimed at Ugandan State Department staff or those working in East Africa, two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters on Friday.

All American employees targeted were using iPhones. Last week, Apple announced that it had sued the NSO Group for targeting users of its equipment, saying the company in the midst of a Pegasus scrutiny should be held accountable.


The case from the Silicon Valley giant added a new dimension to the NSO, which has been embroiled in controversy over reports that tens of thousands of activists, journalists and politicians have been listed as potential victims of its Pegasus spyware.

Although U.S. phone numbers were included in a long list of targets featured in a series of media reports earlier this year, it has not been confirmed whether the calls were actually hacked.

The NSO Group claims that its cheating software cannot work on phones that start with US +1 country code. However, State Department employees allegedly robbed local phones in Uganda, Reuters reported.

Responding to a report that did not disclose who was responsible for the alleged robbery, the NSO Group said it had no indication that its software had been used in such a crime, but withdrew the relevant accounts and pledged to investigate the matter.


“If our investigation proves that these acts were actually perpetrated by NSO agents, that client will be permanently terminated and legal action will be taken,” said an NSO spokesman, adding that the NSO would again “co-operate with any relevant government official and provide full details. also, ”the company said in a statement.
Please note, the State Department only referred to the Department of Commerce’s recent decision to remove an Israeli company from the list of non-smokers, making it difficult for US firms to do business with it.

“We are deeply concerned that commercial spyware such as NSO Group software poses a serious security risk to American employees,” White House journalist Jen Psaki told a conference later Friday.

Both the Ugandan Ambassador and Apple have rejected Reuters’s request for comment.

Noting the “organized violence” in many countries by an Israeli company, Biden’s top official who spoke on condition of anonymity told Reuters that such robberies were the reason why the US decided to disband groups like the NSO.


The Israeli embassy in Washington, DC, said in a statement that its crackdown on US officials was “very serious”. The Department of Defense must authorize the sale of spyware companies’ products abroad.

“Cyber ​​products such as these are monitored and licensed for government deployment only for purposes related to the fight against terrorism and serious crime,” a spokesman for the Israeli ambassador said. “The licensing provisions are very clear and if these claims are true, it is a gross violation of these provisions.”

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