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Apple’s NSO lawsuit targets illegal spying by oppressive regimes


Apple says its lawsuit against NSO Group this week is an attempt to hold the surveillance firm “accountable for … the surveillance and targeting of Apple users.” And it spared no ire in accusing the Israeli spyware company of its selling surveillance software to authoritarian governments — regardless of whether those governments use it to target dissidents, journalists, and activists.

NSO Group was already facing legal problems after messenger platform provider WhatsApp filed suit in 2019 for similar reasons. Earlier this month, the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the spyware company’s claim that it should be protected under sovereign immunity laws. In the high-profile case, WhatsApp alleged NSO’s spyware was used to hack 1,400 users of the messaging app.

The two lawsuits open the company to discovery requirements as the cases move forward. Until now, NSO Group has been able to cloak its business practices in secrecy.

In September, Citizen Lab, a cybersecurity watchdog organization, released a report outlining what it found to be zero-day zero-click exploits by NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware against various electronic devices and digital documents.

“I think it’s highly unlikely they had no ability to control and no idea about the misuses of their software — especially over the past year or two because Citizen Lab and other organizations have been documenting the misuse of the software,” said Cindy Cohn, executive director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a non-profit digital rights group based in San Francisco. “I mean, after [Jamal] Khashoggi was killed, how do you not wonder.”

Various media outlets have alleged that NSO Group’s hacking malware was used to monitor people close to Saudi Arabian journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi both before and after his death at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018.

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