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Facebook wanted to buy spyware from NSO Group to track VPN users

Facebook is said to have attempted to purchase tools from the controversial NSO Group to track some of its users. These are users who had installed the Onavo VPN. Facebook wanted to follow that with the Pegasus spyware, says NSO.

Two senior Facebook employees are said to have contacted Israeli espionage company NSO in October 2017. That sells spyware to governments, such as zerodays for Android. The company also created the infamous Pegasus spyware, a tool to jailbreak iPhones and install malware on them. Facebook asked NSO in 2017 whether it could use certain parts of Pegasus to monitor users, according to court documents. In those documents, NSO CEO Shalev Hulio said that Facebook wanted to deploy the tools to users of Onavo Protect. That controversial app was a VPN that monitored phone data such as private messages and internet traffic. Facebook paid users vouchers to install the app. It did so to keep an eye on which competing apps were increasing in popularity. According to court documents, Facebook employees would not want to use the app to directly listen to phones. They would like to use only parts of the Pegasus tool to more efficiently read data from iPhones to users who had already installed the Onavo tool. Facebook would have suggested paying for every Onavo user who had it.

According to the documents, NSO allegedly refused the sale itself. The company says it only sells its tools to governments, and not to private companies such as Facebook. The statements were made in a lawsuit filed by Facebook’s subsidiary WhatsApp against the NSO Group. NSO is said to have deployed its spyware against WhatsApp, among other things. Facebook has not yet responded to the story.

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