These are not good times for NSO Group, the company that created and responsible for Pegasus, a spyware Trojan used in very, very specific operations, that is, targeting certain people. The Israeli company only offers its software (or so it claims) governmental organizations which, moreover, must have been previously approved by the Israeli government. From what we can deduce, of course, that if the approval process is active, the country’s authorities have practically real-time knowledge of which organizations are carrying out espionage at all times.
These are not good times for NSO since Pegasus rose to public opinion. The publication of Project Pegasus was another jug of cold water, the disclosure of the espionage to several heads of state meant the crossing of many red lines and finally, just a few weeks ago, the US authorities decided to sanction Pegasus. In addition, Apple has also taken to court against the creators of Pegasus, in a case in which Pursues NSO Group from prohibiting the use of any Apple software, service or device.
If we had doubts about the reasons that would have motivated the Biden administration to act against NSO Group, now a revelation from the Reuters Agency could put us on the track, and that is that according to said information, at least nine Ugandan-related U.S. State Department employees were spied on with Pegasus. Recall that the State Department is the part of the American executive responsible for foreign policy and international relations. We can equate it with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to better understand its role.
NSO Group states that Pegasus can’t spy on devices with US phone numbers, and apparently would have met that condition. Nevertheless, the spied officials would have used phones with phone numbers from other countries (we can infer that at least part of them would be Ugandan numbers), and that therefore the limitation of espionage in the United States would not have been fulfilled, and that therefore Pegasus would have been involved in an espionage action against the government from the USA.
NSO has claimed that the company does not know who its customers are spying on with its software, as well as that it will investigate what happened, and if it finds a client who is not complying with the accepted conditions to use it, access to it will be cut off. It would sound good, if it weren’t for the fact that Pegasus’s track record isn’t exactly honors. As we already learned thanks to the Pegasus Project, there are multiple abuses committed by means of said software.
This also does not appear to have pleased the Government of Israel. «Digital products like the one mentioned [Pegasus] are supervised and authorized to be exported to governments only for purposes related to the fight against terrorism and serious crimes“Said an embassy spokesman. «The licensing provisions are very clear and if these statements are true, it is a serious violation of these provisions«.
For his part, a senior Biden administration official, who spoke on condition of not being identified, said the threat to U.S. personnel abroad was one of the reasons the administration was cracking down on companies like NSO Group and, what is more interesting still, planning a public debate on the future of the tools like Pegasus. A conversation aimed at greater control over the export of this type of software, and that could begin to be raised this month at the Summit for Democracy, which begins on December 9.