Earlier this year, the Pegasus spyware was in the news as it came to light that several governments had used the tool to target activists, journalists and even their own officials. Apple has now sued the NSO Group — the Israel-based company behind Pegasus — to prevent further abuse and harm to its users. In a press release issued by the company, Apple said that it is also seeking a permanent injunction to ban NSO Group from using any Apple software, services, or devices.
Apple said that the NSO Group creates sophisticated, state-sponsored surveillance technology that allows its highly targeted spyware to surveil its victims. Victims of Pegasus like spyware are both Android as well as iPhone users.
How did NSO Group use Pegasus?
Called FORCEDENTRY, NSO Group’s exploit for a now-patched vulnerability previously used to break into a victim’s Apple device and install the latest version of NSO Group’s spyware product, Pegasus. Apple explained that to deliver spyware, attackers created Apple IDs to send malicious data to a victim’s device — allowing NSO Group or its clients to deliver and install Pegasus spyware without a victim’s knowledge. Though misused to deliver FORCEDENTRY, Apple servers were not hacked or compromised in the attacks, claimed the company.
Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering said that state-sponsored actors like the NSO Group spend millions of dollars on sophisticated surveillance technologies without effective accountability. “That needs to change,” Federeghi, before adding, “Apple devices are the most secure consumer hardware on the market — but private companies developing state-sponsored spyware have become even more dangerous.”
He further said that these cybersecurity threats only impact a very small number of Apple customers, it takes any attack on users very seriously. “We’re constantly working to strengthen the security and privacy protections in iOS to keep all our users safe,” he added.
In the lawsuit filed, Apple called NSO Group notorious hackers and “amoral 21st century mercenaries who have created highly sophisticated cyber-surveillance machinery that invites routine and flagrant abuse. They design, develop, sell, deliver, deploy, operate, and maintain offensive and destructive malware and spyware products and services that have been used to target, attack, and harm Apple users, Apple products, and Apple.”
Apple further argues in the lawsuit that NSO’s products are not ordinary consumer malware. “NSO has no interest in serving up annoying pop-up ads or even spoofing your bank in order to siphon money from your checking account. NSO’s products are far more insidious and often highly sophisticated. They permit attacks, including from sovereign governments that pay hundreds of millions of dollars to target and attack a tiny fraction of users with information of particular interest to NSO’s customers.”
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