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Apple files a lawsuit against the NSO Group for spyware

Earlier this week, Apple filed a lawsuit against the Israeli firm NSO Group and its parent company, alleging that the company violated a federal anti-hacking law by selling highly effective software that clients used to spy on Apple customers.

Several claims are made in the lawsuit, which was filed in California federal court, including that NSO's spyware, known as Pegasus, and other malware have caused Apple to lose money and property, as well as to violate the human rights of Apple users.

According to Apple, a permanent restraining order prohibiting NSO Group from using any Apple software, services, or devices is being sought in order to prevent future abuse and harm to its customers.

According to a statement released on Tuesday, NSO Group did not address the specifics of the lawsuit, instead stating that the company's technology saves lives.

According to the company, NSO Group provides "lawful tools" to assist governments in the fight against pedophilia and terrorism, among other things.

However, despite the fact that NSO Group has long claimed that its software is only sold to authorized users for law enforcement and counter-terrorism purposes, researchers have discovered evidence that Pegasus has been used to monitor dissidents and human rights activists for years.

A Saudi activist was spied on by an unidentified party in September, according to researchers from the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab, who used Pegasus and a vulnerability in Apple's operating system to conduct their investigation.

According to cybersecurity analysts and human rights activists, the lawsuit is the latest setback for NSO Group, which has been accused of doing business with repressive governments for quite some time now. Scientists have discovered that the company's easy-to-use spyware is capable of listening in on a phone's communications and accessing other sensitive data stored on the device.

It was announced this month that the NSO Group had been added to the US Commerce Department's so-called "entity list," effectively barring the company from purchasing software components from US vendors without obtaining a license. In a complaint filed with the Department of Commerce, NSO Group and another Israeli company, Candiru, were accused of providing spyware to foreign governments that "maliciously targeted" journalists, embassy employees, and activists.

According to the NSO Group, it was "disappointed by the decision, given that our technologies contribute to the protection of US national security interests and policies through the prevention of terrorism and crime." The company said it would "advocate for the decision to be reversed" at the time.

We look forward to sharing the full picture of how we have the world's most stringent compliance and human rights programs," the company says in a statement. "These programs have already resulted in multiple terminations of contacts [sic] with government agencies that misused our products," the company says.

At the time of writing, Candiru was unavailable for comment.

Apple is the second major technology company in the United States to file a lawsuit against NSO Group. In 2019, Facebook (now known as Meta) filed a lawsuit against NSO Group, alleging that the company assisted in the hacking of 1,400 WhatsApp-enabled phones.

According to Facebook, NSO Group has denied the allegations and made an attempt to halt the case's progression. However, an appeals court in the United States ruled this month that the lawsuit can go forward.

Following the lawsuit, Apple announced a $10 million donation to "organizations pursuing cybersurveillance research and advocacy," in addition to any monetary damages awarded.

The NSO Group is being sued for unspecified punitive damages as well as "compensatory damages in an amount to be determined at trial," according to the complaint.

In addition to several other companies, the NSO Group sells specialized hacking tools for a variety of different types of mobile phones.

During the course of their lawsuit, Apple's attorneys discussed what they described as a "continual arms race" between Apple engineers and coders from the NSO Group.

Although Apple continues to develop solutions and improve the security of its devices, the complaint states that "Defendants are constantly updating their malware and exploits in order to circumvent Apple's security updates."

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