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Thursday, December 2, 2021

U.S. puts Israeli spyware company NSO Group on trade blacklist

The United States has added the Israeli military spyware company NSO Group to the trade blacklist in response to the growing surveillance threat posed by technology companies.

NSO and Candiru, a smaller Tel Aviv-based company, were among the four companies the US Department of Commerce added to its so-called entity list on Wednesday, which will restrict the export of American technology to these companies.

Both are part of the growing Israeli cyber industry, which often recruits veterans from elite military units and sells software that allows customers to remotely hack computers and cell phones.

Pegasus, a military-grade software licensed by NSO, was revealed last year that it had been used to attack smartphones belonging to 37 journalists, human rights activists and other prominent personalities.

The company has repeatedly stated that it only sells weapons to the country to combat terrorism and serious crimes, and has been approved by the Israeli government. The spokesperson did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

According to research conducted by Microsoft and the Citizen Lab of the University of Toronto, Candiru exploited vulnerabilities in Microsoft and Google products to allow the government to invade more than 100 journalists, activists, and political dissidents worldwide.

The U.S. Department of Commerce stated that the designation of the two companies was “based on evidence that these entities developed and provided spyware to foreign governments, and used these tools to maliciously attack government officials, journalists, businessmen, activists, academics, and embassy staff.

“These tools also enable foreign governments to carry out transnational repression, which is the practice of authoritarian governments to suppress dissent against dissidents, journalists and activists outside their sovereign borders. This practice threatens the rules-based international order,” the Department said.

The U.S. Department of Commerce also added a Russian company, Positive Technologies, and a Singapore-based Computer Security Initiative consulting firm to its list, claiming that their “trading network tools” were used to gain unauthorized access to computer systems.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo stated that the U.S. is “committed to actively using export controls to hold companies that develop, trade, or use technology for malicious activities that threaten civil society members and have different opinions. Politicians, government officials, and organizations at home and abroad.”

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