The FBI made an announcement confirming rumors of its affiliation with NSO spyware. This comes as a hot surprise considering Americas response to NSO and its spyware. A few months back the company had to file for bankruptcy after a large boycott. The company was sanctioned in the US and had to fight a large lawsuit from apple right after.
What is NSO and what does it do?
The NSO is an Israeli cyber-security firm that specialized in government tools. The most notable example is the infamous Pegasus spyware that would infect users phones using a text message. The software mainly targeted iPhone's but also worked on some android phones. Based on a zero-day exploit, the software worked surprisingly well, infecting users phones using just a simple text message.
NSO first came under fire when a group of journalists and human rights groups collaborated to create an extensive report. The report focused on NSOs Pegasus spyware. It was revealed that the group, sold its tool to authoritarian governments and was used in an unethical manner. According to the report, over 50,000 people were compromised using this tool. It was also revealed that a large part of that list contains journalists and activists. The tool was even used to target American politicians. It was also alleged that Saudi Arabia used the spyware to spy on Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
Soon after the news broke out, the company claimed that this number is untrue. The company also said that they carefully review all of their customers, and that Israeli officials have to approve the sale. The group also went on to say that their tool is only used to catch terrorists, pedophiles and other threats to society. Despite this, the US did not take the companies work too well and was quick to sanction the company.
Rumors of the FBI using the NSO spyware have been floating around for a while now. Only this week the FBI has confirmed that these rumors are true. As it turns out, the FBI has purchased and used the Pegasus spyware. In a statement, the FBI said that they have to stay on top of emerging technologies, thus the software had to be purchased an tested. According to that same statement, the Pegasus software was never actually deployed. The FBI claims that the tool was only purchased for testing at the time.
At the time of testing, the Department of Justice also discussed the matter. It was stated that the deployment of the tool could complicate prosecutions due to privacy laws. The FBI noted that they purchased a short license, just so that they can test the spyware. Their license is no longer active. A report revealed that the bureau ranked up to $5 Million in fees for the license.
Pegasus, and the company behind it came under hot fire after revelations of human rights abuses. Multiple governments around the world have launched investigations into NSO. Despite being revealed at a weird time, the fact that the FBI had interest in the tool is no surprise. The FBI has been long known for its surveillance and innovatory law enforcement tactics.