Apple has revealed that the iPhones of US State Department staff were targeted by NSO group hacking tools.

Apple has reportedly informed some State Department employees that their iPhones were the target of a state-of-the-art hacking tool developed by the NSO group. Apple has recently sued the organization responsible for Pegasus spyware, which was created to compromise the security of iOS and Android.

Reuters specifically reports that Israeli-based NSO group spyware targeted at least nine employees working for the US State Department:

According to four people familiar with the matter, the iPhones of at least nine Apple State employees were hacked by an unknown assailant using state-of-the-art spyware developed by the Israeli-based NSO Group.

The two sources said the hacks over the past several months have either targeted U.S. officials based in Uganda or focused on issues related to the East African country.

As the report notes, the significance of this development lies in the fact that it marks the largest hack by US authorities using hacking tools developed by the NSO. The company behind the hacking tools has denied responsibility for the targeted hacking of State Department officials, and Reuters notes that the party using the NSO’s hacking tools has not yet been identified.

An NSO spokesman said: “If our investigation reveals that these actions actually took place with NSO’s tools, such customers will be permanently removed and legal action will be taken.” A spokesman for the NSO added that the NSO would “co-operate with any relevant government authority and provide complete information. We will have the information.”

Apple has recently begun alerting iPhone users around the world who have been targeted by Pegasus spyware, including nine US officials.

Spyware is distributed via an iMessage that appears invisible to the recipient. Reuters reports that State Department officials who used the e-mail address were easily targeted by their Apple IDs.

A senior Biden administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the threat to US officials abroad was one of the reasons the administration was cracking down on companies such as the NSO. Leading the global debate.

Read the full Reuters report here.

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