The US Department of Commerce has added the Israeli company NSO Group to its entity list. This means that American companies are not allowed to do business with it without a special license and that NSO is not allowed to sell its spyware in the US.
NSO Group will be blacklisted for “reasonable reason to believe” that the company is engaged in “activities that conflict with the national security or foreign interests of the United States, according to a report from the ministry.” ‘. According to the ministry, investigations have shown that NSO Group has supplied spyware to regimes that use the tool to spy on government officials, journalists, businessmen, activists, academics and embassy employees.
In doing so, the US government joins accusations that have been leveled against NSO Group for much longer. In July, 17 news organizations released information about the use of the Pegasus spyware on the basis of joint research. According to the investigation, it was used in hacking attempts on at least 37 journalists and human rights activists.
In addition to NSO Group, the ministry also puts Candiru on the entity list. That is also a company from Israel that is said to supply spyware. Furthermore, Positive Technologies from Russia and Computer Security Initiative Consultancy are PTE. LTD from Singapore listed. They are being blacklisted, according to the report, for developing exploits that are used to access computer systems. According to the ministry, this poses a threat to the privacy and security of individuals and organizations worldwide.
The decision to blacklist the four companies is part of the Biden-Harris administration’s efforts to put human rights at the heart of US foreign policy, the ministry said. The government wants to achieve this by, among other things, working to stop the spread of digital tools used for repression.
Companies on the entity list are no longer allowed to trade with US companies unless a special license is granted. Huawei was put on the same list by the Trump administration in 2019. Since then, that Chinese manufacturer has had great difficulty selling consumer products in Western countries.
The espionage company NSO Group and its Pegasus spyware have been under fire for years, among others by human rights organizations and tech companies. WhatsApp is involved in a lawsuit with NSO Group, because the company’s Pegasus spyware is said to have been distributed to at least 1400 WhatsApp users. Various tech companies and human rights organizations rallied behind WhatsApp in that case. Amnesty International previously sued NSO Group for the Pegasus spyware, but lost that lawsuit for lack of evidence.
NSO Group has always denied that its spyware is used maliciously. The Israeli company supplies the spyware to governments, in its own words, to use it against serious criminals and terrorists, among other things.