Government of Israel vows to better monitor cyber exports after NSO tools used to spy on US officials


The Israeli government’s Defense Export Control Agency sent a notice on Monday evening saying it would apply stricter rules governing the export of offensive cyber tools. The announcement came days after multiple media outlets revealed that tools from Israeli cyber-firm NSO Group were used to hack the phones of at least 11 U.S. State Department officials based in Uganda.

Jerusalem post reported On Monday the agency released a revised version of its “Final Client Statement” that countries will need to sign before they can gain access to powerful spyware technology like the NSO Group’s Pegasus.

The statement says countries will not use the tools to attack government criticism or “political discourse” and will only use them to prevent terrorism and “serious crime”. Any country that ignores the declaration will lose access to cyber tools, according to the document.

The new rules came just days later Reuters, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post reported that 11 U.S. Embassy Uganda staff saw their phones hacked using Pegasus, which can be handed over to Apple phones via a text message that doesn’t even need to be opened.

Apple sued NSO Group for creating the tool and said it had previously been used to hack the devices of U.S. citizens, despite the company’s claims that it is only used for anti-virus efforts. terrorism. Apple has since corrected the vulnerability exploited by Pegasus and now inform people when they are targeted.

The US government sanctioned NSO Group in November after months of reports showing how technology was widely used by dictatorships to hack the devices of opponents, human rights activists, other world leaders and more.

NSO Group continues to face a barrage of bad headlines about how its Pegasus spyware has been used around the world. Last month a explosive report of the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto and the Associated Press said that even the Israeli government his own spy agency used the tool to hack phones six Palestinian human rights activists.

This report followed another on the UAE ruler using Pegasus to spy on his ex-wife and British lawyers.

In July, the “Pegasus project“used information from Amnesty International, the University of Toronto Citizen Lab and Forbidden Stories to discover that the NSO group’s spyware was used to target at least 65 business leaders, 85 human rights activists, 189 journalists and at least 600 politicians.

Targeted government officials included French President Emmanuel Macron, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and Iraqi President Barham Salih. Cabinet ministers from dozens of countries, including Egypt and Pakistan, were also targeted.

Last month, in the wake of the sanctions announcement, several members of the US Congress asked the state department investigate in more detail how Pegasus and other spyware are being used to violate human rights around the world.

John Scott-Railton, senior researcher at Citizen Lab, told ZDNet that the latest news regarding the use of Pegasus against U.S. officials has been ongoing for years.

“NSO knew exactly what it was doing selling this hacking tool and has known for years that Pegasus is being used against diplomats. They pose a flashing threat to US national security and a threat to US rights. man. That’s what earned them the block list designation by Congress, ”Scott-Railton said.

Scott-Railton was skeptical of new rules enacted by the Israeli government’s Defense Export Control Agency, wondering what the point of a signed declaration would be for dictators or repressive governments who have significant power within their own. borders.

“I’m puzzled. You’re asking a gallery of rogue dictators to promise they won’t behave badly? That sounds like a distraction, not effective regulation. In fact, NSO has apparently had its clients certify that they would not. abuse the technology for years. We have seen how badly this has gone, “he added, noting the wider difficulties countries will face now as the spyware has become so lucrative.

“The problem with mercenary spyware is that it gets into the hands of security services long before there is effective oversight and accountability. As you might expect, it’s companies like NSO that are behind the rapid proliferation of this technology, and the damage can be found everywhere you look, ”added Scott-Railton. “Democracies should decide what kind of technological powers they wish to bestow on their police services. Citizens of dictatorships do not have the luxury of having a say, and selling spyware to these regimes will help them to remain undemocratic.


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