The discovery is painful for Israel, where NSO Group, the company behind the program, is headquartered. Earlier this year, a consortium of media revealed that secret services from around the world are using advanced Pegasus spyware to spy on journalists, opposition members and activists, among others. The use of Pegasus also against the employees of the US government, an important ally of Israel, is very painful for the government in Jerusalem.
The software is said to have been found on iPhones owned by US officials who were working in Uganda or dealing with this East African country. They’ve been warned by Apple, the phone maker. It is not known who carried out the hack. The long list of potential targets of the Pegasus hack revealed earlier this year already included some US officials. It was not clear if they had actually been hacked.
Terrorists and criminals
NSO Group, which claims its spyware is only for terrorists and dangerous criminals, wrote in a statement that it will open an investigation and agree to cooperate with government investigations. The company says it has no indication of misuse of its products. To be on the safe side, it has temporarily cut its services from all customers potentially involved in the case.
The US government recently imposed trade restrictions on NSO Group, such as the Israeli company Candiru, due to the misuse of spyware. Apple announced a lawsuit against the NSO Group last month, and Meta (formerly Facebook) has done the same before.
White House spokesman Jen Psaki said during a news conference Friday that he could not provide further details on the matter. In general, he stated that commercial spyware from companies like NSO “pose a serious security risk to US government employees”.
Pegasus can infect phones without users even realizing it. Then the intelligence service can watch and listen to almost everything that happens with the phone, from phone conversations to the location. The spyware was used, among other things, against critical Moroccan journalist Omar Radi, who was recently sentenced to 6 years in prison in Morocco for spying for the Netherlands.
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