Israeli software used to hack iPhones of US State Department officials

Israel’s NSO Group is investigating whether its products were use to hack U.S. officials in Uganda

By Donna Rachel Edmunds, World Israel News

At least nine U.S. State Department employees had their iPhones hacked by an unknown attacker using software developed by Israel’s NSO Group, sources have said.

The targets were against U.S. officials based in Uganda or with connections to the country, with the hacks taking place last month.

Technology firm NSO Group, primarily known for its Pegasus spyware which is capable of remote zero-click surveillance of smartphones, said it was investigating whether its products had been used.

In a statement released Friday the company said that they had “immediately shut down all the customers potentially relevant to this case, due to the severity of the allegations, and even before we began the investigation,” after being alerted to the matter the previous day.

They added: “This termination took place despite the fact that there is no indication the phones were targeted by NSO’s technology. The claims of all involved parties specifically mentioned there is no indication, let alone proof, that it was NSO’s tools that were used by these customers.”

The company detailed that its Pegasus software can only be installed based on phone numbers, and that it does not work on U.S. numbers. The numbers in this case appear to all have been Ugandan.

They also highlighted their commitment to terminating the contracts of those found to be misusing their products for nefarious purposes.

“If the allegations turn out to be true, they are a blunt violation of all commitments and agreements that company has with its customers, and the company will take legal action against these customers,” the company stated.

A State Department spokesperson declined to comment on the alleged hack, according to Israel Hayom, instead drawing attention to the Commerce Department’s recent decision to place NSO Group on an entity list over evidence that it “developed and supplied spyware to foreign governments.”

NSO Group, which has close ties to Israel’s defense and intelligence communities, must gain an export license from the Israeli government to sell its technology to foreign entities.

In a statement, the Israeli Embassy in Washington said “Cyber products like the one mentioned are supervised and licensed to be exported to governments only for purposes related to counter-terrorism and severe crimes. The licensing provisions are very clear and if these claims are true, it is a severe violation of these provisions.”

In November, tech giant Apple announced it is suing Israel’s NSO Group, seeking to block the world’s most infamous hacker-for-hire company from breaking into Apple’s products, including the iPhone.