Apple sues company known for hacking iPhones on behalf of governments

On Tuesday, Apple sued NSO Group, an Israeli firm. The firm sells software to law enforcement and government agencies that allows them to hack iPhones and read the data on them, like messages and other communications.

Amnesty International said earlier this year it discovered that the NSO Group malware called Pegasus had infected recent-model iPhones belonging to human rights lawyers and journalists. The malware was allegedly used to monitor relatives and close friends of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who was murdered in Turkey by assassins who were working on behalf of Saudi Arabia.

Apple is now currently seeking damages over $75,000 as well as a permanent injunction to ban NSO Group from using Apple devices, services, or software. 

Apple says the lawsuit would be a warning to other spyware vendors: “The steps Apple is taking today will send a clear message: in a free society, it is unacceptable to weaponize powerful state-sponsored spyware against innocent users and those who seek to make the world a better place,” said Ivan Krstic, Apple’s head of security engineering and architecture.

The suit was filed in federal court in the Northern District of California, and Apple wrote in the lawsuit that NSO Group software allows “attacks, including from sovereign governments that pay hundreds of millions of dollars to target and attack a tiny fraction of users with information of particular interest to NSO’s customers.” Apple added that it has patched the flaws that enabled the software to access private data on iPhones. 

But NSO Group says the deployment of their software is for a good cause. “Thousands of lives were saved around the world thanks to NSO Group’s technologies used by its customers,” said an NSO Group spokesperson. “Pedophiles and terrorists can freely operate in technological safe-havens, and we provide governments the lawful tools to fight it. NSO Group will continue to advocate for the truth.”

Apple said it will be donating $10 million and any damages from the lawsuit to organizations focused on fighting digital surveillance.

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