Tech giant Apple said on Tuesday it was suing Israel’s NSO group, seeking to stop the world’s most infamous hacker company from breaking into Apple products, like the iPhone.
Apple has said in a lawsuit filed in California federal court that NSO Group employees are 21st century amoral mercenaries who have created highly sophisticated cyber surveillance mechanisms that invite routine and blatant abuse. Apple said NSO Group’s spyware called Pegasus has been used to attack a small number of Apple customers around the world.
State-sponsored players like the NSO Group are spending millions of dollars on sophisticated surveillance technology with no real accountability. That needs to change, said Craig Federighi, senior vice president of software engineering at Apple.
NSO Group has largely denied the wrongdoing and said its products have been used by governments to save lives.
Pedophiles and terrorists can operate freely in tech havens, and we are providing governments with the legal tools to combat it. The NSO Group will continue to advocate for the truth, the company said in a statement.
It’s the latest blow to the hacking company, which was recently blacklisted by the US Department of Commerce and is currently being sued by social media giant Facebook.
Security researchers have discovered that Pegasus is being used around the world to break into the phones of human rights activists, journalists, and even members of the Catholic clergy.
Pegasus infiltrates phones to suck up personal and location data and surreptitiously controls smartphone microphones and cameras. Researchers have found several examples of NSO Group tools using so-called zero-click exploits that infect targeted mobile phones without any user interaction.
The Biden administration announced this month that NSO Group and another Israeli cybersecurity firm called Candiru have been added to the entity list, limiting their access to U.S. components and technology by requiring government permission to exports.
Also this month, security researchers revealed that Pegasus spyware was detected on the cell phones of six Palestinian human rights activists. And Mexican prosecutors recently announced that they had arrested a businessman accused of using Pegasus spyware to spy on a reporter.
Facebook sued NSO Group for using a somewhat similar exploit that allegedly intruded through its globally popular WhatsApp encrypted messaging app. A U.S. federal appeals court issued a ruling this month dismissing an attempt by the NSO group to have the lawsuit dismissed.
Apple also announced on Tuesday that it was donating $ 10 million, along with all damages won in the NSO Group lawsuit, to cybersurveillance researchers and advocates.