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US Lawmakers Call For Sanctions After 9 State Department Employees’ iPhones Hacked With Software From Israeli NSO Spyware Company

US Lawmakers Call For Sanctions After 9 State Department Employees’ iPhones Hacked With Software From Israeli NSO Spyware Company

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US Lawmakers call For Sanctions After 9 State Department Employee iPhones Hacked With Software From Israeli NSO Spyware Company Photo: Credit:Urupong / istock https://www.istockphoto.com/portfolio/urupongphunk?mediatype=photography

A group of 18 Democratic lawmakers has asked President Joe Biden to impose financial sanctions on controversial Israel spyware firm NSO Group and several other surveillance companies following the revelation that nine U.S. State Department employees had their iPhones hacked with the company’s software.

NSO Group has come under global scrutiny for its Pegasus software, considered one of the most impactful cyber-surveillance tools available, the Times of Israel reported.

The hacks attacked U.S. officials either based in Uganda or focused on matters concerning the East African country, two of the sources told Reuters.

The lawmakers sent a joint letter to the president asking him to freeze bank accounts of company executives amid claims they helped authoritarian regimes to commit human rights abuses.

The companies facilitated the “disappearance, torture and murder of human rights activists and journalists” and asked for the application of “Global Magnitsky” sanctions, the letter stated, according to the Times of Israel.

Global Magnitsky Act allows the U.S. government to sanction foreign government officials implicated in human rights abuses anywhere, according to the Treasury Department.

“To meaningfully punish them and send a clear signal to the surveillance technology industry, the US government should deploy financial sanctions,” the group of Democrats wrote.

The Pegasus software allows users to hack and take full control of a target’s phone. It can download all data from the device, as well as activate its camera or microphone without the phone’s owner knowing.


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While it is not known who initiated the hacks on the U.S. government officials, the intrusions represent the widest known hacks of U.S. officials through NSO technology, Reuters reported. Before the hacks were reported, a list of numbers with potential targets including some American officials surfaced through investigative reporting by Reuters on NSO. More than 1,000 people across over 50 countries were listed and traced to numbers on the Pegasus software list, including several heads of state and prime ministers, Arab royal family members, business executives, 85 human rights activists, 189 journalists, and more than 600 politicians and government officials.

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This isn’t the first time Israeli technology has have been used to spy on U.S. officials.

In June, Israeli cybersecurity company Quadream was accused of selling “zero-click” phone-hacking technology to Saudi Arabia to hack targets using iPhones. Headed up by a former Israeli military intelligence official, Quadream focuses on breaking into and hacking mobile phones and offers tech solutions for those who want to collect data from smartphones, particularly iPhones.

Photo Credit:Urupong / istock