Americans slap the Israeli government on the wrist over spyware

With a crackdown on two Israeli companies whose spying program has contributed to the “cross-border repression” of politicians, activists, and journalists, among others, the US government is sending a message to the government in Jerusalem. Now the Washington Department of Commerce electronic monitoring companies NSO and Candiru BlacklistedThey can no longer access US parts or technology without government approval.

NSO was in the news this summer for its Pegasus spyware. This gives NSO clients – including intelligence services in Morocco, India, Saudi Arabia, Hungary and Azerbaijan – complete, unnoticed remote access to all the information on their targets’ smartphones, such as photos, email, chat messages, location data, documents, and phone conversations. The device’s camera and microphone can also be activated remotely without being noticed.

Read also Pegasus allows itself to access everything on your mobile phone

Seventeen news agencies have received a list of more than 50,000 phone numbers from the human rights organization Amnesty International for the suspected targets of Pegasus agents. It included heads of state and government, human rights activists, businessmen and journalists, although it was not in all cases clear that the devices had actually been hacked.

The case drew attention to the close ties between the Israeli cybersecurity sector and the government. Many NSO employees have a history with the country’s military intelligence, and exporting NSO technology requires a license from the Israeli Ministry of Defense. The country uses these permits as a diplomatic tool. Israeli lawyer Itai Mac said earlier Norwegian Refugee Council: “Israel uses it to establish relations with countries, including dictatorships. It’s a great way to gain the trust of the military in such a country.”

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Diplomatic pressure

The leaked list led to some painful discoveries. Thus it turned out that French President Macron and most members of his government were supposed targets of espionage by Moroccan intelligence, as was the Moroccan monarch himself. Hundreds of people may have been followed in India, including Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi in the run-up to the 2019 elections won by Prime Minister Modi.

Under intense diplomatic pressure, in the summer the Israeli government announced an investigation into NSO’s activities and into its spy technology export bases. Both the NSO and Defense Minister Benny Gantz confirmed that summer that the program is being exported only to combat serious crime or terrorism. NSO says it will deny customers access to its technology if spyware abuse is detected.

Read also The Israeli government is under siege because of what was revealed by Pegasus

The US decision to crack down on spyware companies — according to the ministry, in line with the Biden administration’s commitment to placing human rights at the center of foreign policy — is a painful slap on the wrist of the Israeli government. The “transnational repression” that the US State Department NSO blames on the authorities in Jerusalem.

“This is a message not only to this company but also to the Israeli government,” he said. Former UN rapporteur David Kaye says: in a Washington Post. The newspaper also reported that the Israeli authorities were notified only an hour before the decision was announced.


The blacklisting is a huge setback for NSO. Not only does it make US technology and its parts more difficult to access, but many other companies prefer not to treat companies on that list as a precaution. The company wrote in a short response that it wanted to appeal the decision.

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NSO is also involved in a lawsuit brought by Facebook, accusing the company of exploiting leaks in its WhatsApp chat program to install spyware on about 1,400 victims.

In addition to NSO, Israel’s Candiru has also been blacklisted, along with a Russian Positive Technologies and a Singapore-based company. Candiru offers similar spyware as NSO. in july Tech giant Microsoft reported It found the Kandero spyware program on more than 100 victims, including politicians, journalists, human rights activists and embassy officials in Israel, the Palestinian territories, Lebanon, Yemen, Turkey, Spain and the United Kingdom, among others.

The other two companies, according to the Americans, deal in tools used to break into computer systems.

Megan Vasquez

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