Citing that Pegasus spyware sold to foreign governments has been used to target government officials, journalists and others, the U.S. Commerce Department has blacklisted Israel’s NSO Group.
While NSO maintains it only sells its products to law enforcement and intelligence agencies, it has been accused of selling hacking tools to authoritarian regimes around the world.
Pegasus is capable of reading text messages, tracking calls, collecting passwords, location tracking, accessing the target device’s microphone and camera, and harvesting information from apps.
In India, the Pegasus spyware was used on ministers, opposition leaders, political strategists, journalists, activists, minority leaders, supreme court judges, religious leaders, Election commissioners ad CBI Officers as revealed by the Pegasus Project Out of a target list consisting of 50,000 phone numbers, which could have been targeted by the spyware 300 of these numbers are from India.
The Pegasus project was a collaborative investigative journalism initiative undertaken by 17 media organisations
The US administration imposed sanctions on Positive Technologies, a Russian cybersecurity firm and Computer Security Initiative Consultancy PTE. LTD, from Singapore as well.The Department said they trafficked in cyber tools used to gain unauthorized access to computer networks. Both the companies have denied any wrongdoing.
Exports to these firms from U.S counterparts will now be restricted. It will make it far harder for U.S. security researchers to sell them information about computer vulnerabilities. “We are not taking action against countries or governments where these entities are located,” said a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department. The Israeli defence ministry, which grants export licenses to NSO, declined to comment on the matter.
Since Pagasus is classified as cyber arms by the Israeli government, only national governments can purchase the spyware after the authorisation of the Israeli government. Opposition in India is demanding to know who in the Government ordered the purchase of this software. Setting aside Government’s argument about national security, Supreme Court has ordered an independent inquiry into whether the government used the surveillance software in India.