US diplomats’ iPhones hacked using NSO’s “0-click” exploits

US diplomats' iPhones hacked by NSO

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The iPhones of nine State Department officials were infected with powerful and hidden malware developed by the NSO group, an Israeli exploitative seller that is under increasing scrutiny for selling its goods to consumers. As a result, they use it to spy on journalists, lawyers, activists. And American allies.

U.S. officials are either stationed in Uganda or are focusing on issues related to the country, as warnings have been received. This one Apple has told them that their iPhones are being targeted by hackers. Citing unknown individuals with knowledge of the attacks, Reuters said the hackers used NSO software.

No need to click.

As previously reported, the NSO software, known as Pegasus, utilizes actions sent through messaging apps that affect iPhones and Android devices without any targets clicking on links or anything else. Action is required. From there, the devices run hard-to-detect malware that can download images, contacts, text messages and other data. The malware also allows the operator to listen to audio and watch video in real time.

The NSO has long been criticized by journalists and dissidents for selling their wares to opposition governments. Facebook sued NSO in 2019 when Pegasus used the company’s WhatsApp to infect the iPhones of 36 journalists. Last month, Apple sued the NSO after learning Pegasus when 37 iPhones belonging to journalists, human rights activists, and business executives were infected. Critics say the targets do not meet the standards that the NSO says it needs to use powerful spyware. Last month, the Biden administration’s Commerce Department blocked the export, re-export and in-country transfer of NSO technology.

An NSO spokesman said in a statement that after learning of Reuters’ allegations, it immediately removed the responsible user’s access to its system while it was looking into the matter. NSO officials wrote:

At the top of the independent investigation, the NSO will cooperate with any relevant government authority and provide the complete information we have. To be clear, our software is installed by the customer via phone numbers. As mentioned earlier, NSO’s technologies are barred from operating on US (+1) numbers. Once the software is sold to a licensed user, the NSO has no way of knowing who the consumer targets are, for example, we were not aware of the issue and could not be.

Reuters said that although the iPhones targeted in the case were all registered with overseas numbers, the target’s affiliation with the US government was clear because they all used Apple IDs that ended up on state.gov. Email addresses were linked. The news outlet said the crackdown on State Department officials “represents the largest hack of US officials through NSO technology.”

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