Tech

Spyware: New investigation against NSO Group

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The NSO Group, an Israeli hacking software company, is likely to face re-examination by the US Department of Justice. Last year, leading US tech companies like Facebook declared the spyware maker was “powerful and dangerous” and should be held liable under US anti-hacking laws. Now lawyers from the Ministry of Justice have turned to WhatsApp and its operator Facebook to inquire about technical details about hacking that took place in 2019.

The reported [i]The Guardian[i]. NSO itself publicly markets its spyware as a contribution to the prosecution of criminals. However, in 2019, the NSO malware was used to hack 1,400 WhatsApp accounts – from journalists, lawyers, human rights activists and government officials in several countries, among others. As a result, the NSO Group reportedly faced an investigation by the domestic intelligence agency FBI, which also deals with counter-espionage, in early 2020.

But then the matter should have come to a standstill. Only now will the investigation continue, say those in the know. WhatsApp has declined to comment. The NSO Group says it is unaware of an investigation.

Microsoft, Google, Cisco, the Internet Association and VMWare support Facebook in its dispute with the Israeli company. They criticized them in a public letter: “Private companies like the NSO Group are working hard to develop surveillance tools and sell them to governments and other customers as ‘cyber surveillance as a service’.” This makes it possible to listen in on conversations, read text messages and e-mails, view photos and contact lists and download all of the data and search history. It is illegal in the USA

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Facebook has sued the NSO Group in the US. A U.S. federal appeals court is due to decide soon whether the NSO Group will be granted state immunity in the civil lawsuit. The company claims that it is only available to governments in an advisory capacity – and states can hardly be prosecuted in court under US law.

Facebook had won an initial legal proceeding. However, a default judgment was issued at that time, which the NSO Group is now trying to defend itself against. Facebook wants to win the case in terms of content, not just through a default judgment.

In December, Microsoft boss Brad Smith called on the then non-incumbent Biden government to take a swift and clear position in the dispute. Smith sees the NSO Group as a 21st century mercenary.


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