Apple discloses US State Department staff iPhones were targeted by NSO Group hacking tools

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Apple has reportedly informed some US State Department employees that their iPhones were the target of a sophisticated hacking tool created by the NSO Group. Apple recently sued the organization responsible for the Pegasus spyware created to compromise the security of iOS and Android.

Reuters exclusively reports that the Israel-based NSO Group’s spyware targeted at least nine employees who work for the US Department of State:

Apple Inc iPhones of at least nine US State Department employees were hacked by an unknown assailant using sophisticated spyware developed by the Israel-based NSO Group, according to four people familiar with the matter.

The hacks, which took place in the last several months, hit US officials either based in Uganda or focused on matters concerning the East African country, two of the sources said.

As the report notes, the significance of this development is that it marks the widest known hack of US officials using hacking tools created by NSO. The company behind these hacking tools dodged any responsibility for the targeted hacking of State Department officials, and Reuters notes that the party that used NSO’s hacking tools has not yet been identified.

“If our investigation shall show these actions indeed happened with NSO’s tools, such customer will be terminated permanently and legal actions will take place,” said an NSO spokesperson, who added that NSO will also “cooperate with any relevant government authority and present the full information we will have.”

Apple has recently started notifying iPhone users around the world who have been targeted by Pegasus spyware, including the nine US officials.

The spyware is distributed through an iMessage that appears invisible to the recipient. Reuters reports that these State Department officials were easily targeted through their Apple ID that used email addresses.

A senior Biden administration official, speaking on condition he not be identified, said the threat to US personnel abroad was one of the reasons the administration was cracking down on companies such as NSO and pursuing new global discussion about spying limits.

Read the full report from Reuters here.

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