Some US State Department employees were allegedly notified by Apple that they may have been targets of spyware by the NSO Group

Some US State Department employees were allegedly notified by Apple that they may have been targets of spyware by the NSO Group

NSO Group will investigate and, if necessary, take legal action against clients who use its tools unlawfully.

Apple has warned at least nine US Department of State workers that they may have been targeted by state-sponsored malware produced by Israeli business NSO Group.

“If our investigation reveals that these actions were carried out using NSO’s tools, that customer will be permanently terminated, and legal action will be taken,” an NSO spokesperson said, adding that the company will “cooperate with any relevant government authority and present the full information we will have.”

Last month, Apple filed a lawsuit against NSO Group to “hold it accountable” for state-sponsored spyware targeting Apple users. Apple also said it would contribute $10 million to organizations pursuing cybersurveillance research and advocacy.

Apple said NSO Group’s “spyware product” Pegasus was used to attack a “very small number of users” across multiple platforms, including iOS and Android.

Apple’s legal complaint provides new information on NSO Group’s FORCEDENTRY, an exploit for a now-patched vulnerability previously used to break into a victim’s Apple device and install the latest version of NSO Group’s spyware product, Pegasus. […]

To deliver FORCEDENTRY to Apple devices, attackers created Apple IDs to send malicious data to a victim’s device — allowing NSO Group or its clients to deliver and install Pegasus spyware without a victim’s knowledge. Though misused to deliver FORCEDENTRY, Apple servers were not hacked or compromised in the attacks.

Apple said NSO Group’s spyware could allow for attackers to “access the microphone, camera, and other sensitive data on Apple and Android devices.” Apple added that iOS 15 includes new security protections and, as of November 23, Apple said it had not observed any evidence of successful remote attacks against devices running any iOS 15 version.

In a support document, Apple said it would notify users who may have been targeted by email and iMessage “in accordance with industry best practices.” If Apple discovers activity consistent with a state-sponsored attack, we notify the targeted users in two ways:

A Threat Notification is displayed at the top of the page after the user signs into appleid.apple.com. Apple sends an email and iMessage notification to the email addresses and phone numbers associated with the user’s Apple ID.

These notifications provide additional steps that notified users can take to help protect their devices. Through the lawsuit and notifications, Apple aims to cut down on the abuse of state-sponsored spyware.

“State-sponsored actors like the NSO Group spend millions of dollars on sophisticated surveillance technologies without effective accountability,” said Apple’s software engineering chief Craig Federighi. “That needs to change.”

The News Highlights

  • Some US State Department employees were allegedly notified by Apple that they may have been targets of spyware by the NSO Group
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