The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) launched an investigation into Israeli cybersecurity firm NSO Group after suspicions that U.S. residents and companies may have been compromised for intelligence-gathering purposes.
The FBI is investigating whether NSO has had a part to play in cyberattacks against residents and companies in the country, and suspected cyberespionage campaigns against government entities.
Investigations into NSO began in 2017 during an inquiry into whether U.S. hackers had provided the code necessary for the company to develop smartphone-based surveillance software, according to Reuters.
According to NSO, its surveillance software products “help government agencies prevent and investigate terrorism and crime to save thousands of lives around the globe” but critics have argued that governments use these tools to spy on other countries and invade the privacy of their citizens.
Pegasus suite, NSO’s product, is a mobile malware able to intercept communication from android and iOS devices, extract data, and harvest live video and audio feeds, including messaging systems such as Twitter, WhatsApp and Skype.
WhatsApp filed a lawsuit in October against NSO, claiming that the cybersecurity firm weaponized a zero-day vulnerability in the software’s voice IP calling feature, thus enabling an attack against more than 1,400 users in Mexico, the U.A.E., and Bahrain.
Researchers from Citizen Lab published a report that has tracked the deployment of Pegasus. They claim that over the past few years, Pegasus has been used in cyberattacks across 45 countries.
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The company’s software has been connected to attacks against civil rights movements, lawyers, activists, government prosecutors and diplomats in the past.
Although NSO denies it, its software is suspected to be involved in the hacking of Amazon CEO, Jeff Benzos’ smartphone through a malicious message sent during a conversation with Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2018.