The United States blacklisted the Israeli company NSO Group for the use of spyware

Trade officials added Israeli firms to their so-called “entity list,” effectively prohibiting companies from purchasing software components from US vendors without a license.

Also added to the list were the Russian firm Positive Technologies and the Singapore firm Computer Security Initiative Consultancy. Commerce accused these two companies of trafficking “in cyber tools used to gain unauthorized access to information systems.”

Taken together, it is one of the most important steps the Biden administration has taken to curb the sale of hacking tools that analysts say have been used in human rights abuses around the world.

“Today’s action is part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s efforts to put human rights at the center of US foreign policy, including working to stop the proliferation of digital tools used for repression,” the Department said. of Commerce in a statement.

NSO Group criticized Commerce’s announcement. In a statement, the firm said it is “dismayed by the decision given that our technologies support the interests and national security policies of the United States by preventing terrorism and crime, and therefore we will advocate for this decision to be reversed.” .

Washington Post: Investigation Finds Israel-Designed Spyware Used to Hack Journalists and Activists Around the World

“We look forward to presenting the full information on how we have the world’s most rigorous human rights and compliance programs based on [on] the American values ​​we deeply share, “according to the statement,” which has already resulted in multiple terminations of contacts [sic] with government agencies that misused our products. “

Computer Security Initiative Consultancy did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Candiru could not be reached for comment.

In April, the Treasury Department sanctioned Positive Technologies, accusing the firm of providing support to Russia’s FSB intelligence agency. The firm has denied wrongdoing. in a statement On Thursday, Positive Technologies dismissed the actions of the Commerce and Treasury departments as geopolitically motivated, saying that the Treasury sanctions had done little to harm the company’s business.

“We firmly believe that geopolitics should not hinder the technological development of society and will never stop doing what we do best: providing cybersecurity on a global scale,” the company said.

Cybersecurity analysts and human rights activists have long accused the NSO Group, in particular, of selling invasive and user-friendly mobile hacking software to repressive governments. NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware is said to have been used to spy on a journalist and activist in Morocco and the widow of a murdered Mexican journalist, among other targets, according to security investigators. (NSO Group has said that it only sells its software to authorized users for law enforcement and counterterrorism missions.)

US government officials have been concerned about the expanding market for hacking tools and the ability of foreign governments to rapidly develop their own cyber capabilities using American expertise. In September, for example, the Department of Justice advertised charges against three former US military and intelligence agents for allegedly helping to build a hacking program for the UAE government.

“The designation of the US Department of Commerce is a very positive first step in achieving some public responsibility and order in this otherwise poorly regulated market,” said Ron Deibert, director of the University’s Citizen Lab. from Toronto, an investigative team that has documented alleged Pegasus abuses.

Natalia Krapiva, technical legal advisor for Access Now, a nonprofit organization, said other governments could follow the United States on the blacklist of spyware vendors.

The United States is “saying that these companies are in fact acting in violation not only of universal human rights, but also of the national security of the United States,” Krapiva told CNN. “The fact that the United States blacklishes them probably means that other democratic powers will have to respond in a similar way and we strongly encourage them to do so.”

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