Richmond, Va. (AP) – Tech giant Apple announced Tuesday that it is suing Israel’s NSO Group, seeking to block the world’s most notorious hacker-to-hire company from accessing Apple’s products, such as the iPhone.
In a complaint filed in federal court in Apple California, NSO Group employees say “21st century immoral mercenaries, they have created more sophisticated cyber-surveillance machines that invite routine and explicit abuse.” Apple’s NSO Group’s spyware called Pegasus was used to attack a small number of Apple customers worldwide.
“State-sponsored actors, such as the NSO Group, spend millions of dollars on sophisticated surveillance technologies without effective accountability. That should change, ”said Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering.
The NSO Group has widely denied guilt and says its products are being used by governments to prevent terrorism and crime. The company did not immediately return a request for comment Tuesday.
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This is the latest blow to a hacking company that was recently blacklisted by the US Commerce Department and is currently being sued by social media giant Facebook.
Security researchers have found that Pegasus is being used worldwide to access the phones of human rights activists, journalists and members of Catholic clergy.
Pegasus infiltrates phones to vacuum personal and location data and stealthily controls the smartphones’ microphones and cameras. Researchers have found numerous examples of NSO Group tools, known as “zero-click” exploits, that infect targeted mobile phones without any user interaction.
The Biden administration announced this month that the NSO Group and Candiru, another Israeli cyber security firm, are being added to the “skeleton list”, which limits their access to US entities and technology that requires government approval for exports.
This month, security researchers revealed that Pegasus spyware was found on the cellphones of six Palestinian human rights activists. And Mexican prosecutors recently announced the arrest of a businessman accused of using Pegasus spyware to spy on journalists.
Facebook has sued the NSO Group over its exploitation of some form of intrusion through its globally popular encrypted WhatsApp messaging app. The US Federal Court of Appeals ruled this month that it rejected the NSO Group’s attempt to dismiss the lawsuit.
Apple announced Tuesday that it will donate $ 10 million to cybersecurity researchers and attorneys in addition to any damages won by the NSO Group lawsuit.