Pegasus Spyware Used to Hijack Phones of US State Department Officials
Pegasus Was Reportedly Used to Spy on the US Government Victims Over the Past Few Months.
According to Reuters and The Washington Post, Apple informed nine U.S. Embassy and State Department staff members that their iPhones may have been targeted by an unknown attacker employing state-sponsored spyware Pegasus. The malware is developed by the Israeli tech firm NSO Group Technologies.
Over the last few months, the NSO Group proprietary spyware Pegasus, which is capable of remote zero-click surveillance of smartphones, was allegedly used to eavesdrop on US government targets.
Pegasus Spyware M.O.
The spyware uses zero-click exploits delivered via messaging services to infect iPhones and Android phones without needing the victim to click on links or take any other action. However, it is blocked by default from functioning on US phone numbers.
Even though the threat actors’ identities are unknown, the targeted employees were either located in Uganda or engaged in Uganda-related initiatives.
This is the first time when Pegasus spyware is aimed at U.S. government employees.
Israeli technology firm NSO Group declared it will look into the incident and, if needed, will take legal action against clients who used its tools fraudulently. It also said that it had suspended” relevant accounts,” mentioning the gravity of the allegations.
According to Hacker News, the organization has repeatedly claimed that it only sells its goods to government law enforcement and intelligence agencies to assist in the monitoring of security threats and the investigation of terrorists and criminals.
However, data collected over time has shown a methodical use of the technology to snoop on human rights advocates, journalists, and politicians in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Morocco, Mexico, and other countries.
NSO Group’s actions have cost it dear, landing it in the crosshairs of the U.S. Commerce Department, which placed the company in an economic blocklist last month, a decision that may have been motivated by the aforementioned targeting of U.S. foreign diplomats.
What’s more, Apple and Meta have also filed a lawsuit against the business, accusing it of illegally hacking its users using previously unknown security vulnerabilities in iOS and the end-to-end encrypted WhatsApp messaging app. Apple also stated that on November 23, it started sending threat alerts to people it suspects have been targeted by state-sponsored hackers.
Impacted users get notifications through email and iMessage to the addresses and phone numbers connected with their Apple IDs, as well as a conspicuous “Threat Notification” banner at the top of the page when they log into their accounts on appleid.apple[.]com.
State-sponsored actors like the NSO Group spend millions of dollars on sophisticated surveillance technologies without effective accountability. That needs to change.
According to a Wall Street Journal report, the United States intends to collaborate with more than 100 countries to restrict the export of surveillance software to authoritarian governments that employ the technologies to repress human rights.
The new action plan does not include China or Russia as participants.