NSO Group blacklisted.
Washington said on Wednesday it had added the Israeli company that manufactures Pegasus spy software to its list of banned companies because they pose a threat to US national security;
a decision denounced in Tel Aviv.
NSO found itself exposed this summer after investigations published by a consortium of 17 international media outlets revealing that Pegasus allegedly allowed to spy on the numbers of journalists, politicians, activists or business leaders from different countries, including the president French Emmanuel Macron.
These computer programs "have enabled foreign governments to carry out repression beyond their borders (...) to silence any dissonant voice", underlined the American authorities in a press release.
Once installed in a mobile phone, Pegasus allows to spy on its user, accessing their messaging, data, or activating the device remotely to capture sound or image.
The Israeli group said it was "appalled" by the decision and intends to overturn it, a spokesperson for the company based in the suburbs of Tel Aviv told AFP.
According to him, NSO has a “rigorous ethical charter based on American values”.
“The United States is determined to use export controls in an incisive way to hold accountable companies that develop, commercialize or use technologies for malicious purposes, which threaten the cybersecurity of members of civil society or government, dissidents, and organizations based here and abroad, ”said Minister Gina Raimondo.
The ministry also added another Israeli company (Candiru), a Russian company (Positive technologies) and a Singaporean company (Computer Security Initiative Consultancy PTE) to this blacklist, which restricts trade with the firms concerned.
The United States is a great ally of Israel. But US President Joe Biden has indicated that respect for human rights will be at the heart of his foreign policy, and is therefore working to "end the proliferation of digital tools used for repression", according to a statement from the department. of state. "This effort must be used to improve the security of citizens online, combat cybersecurity threats and reduce illegal surveillance," detailed a spokesperson.
Pegasus software must, like military hardware, obtain an export license from the Israeli Defense Ministry in order to be sold to a foreign state.
It is a particularly sophisticated computer program, which makes it possible in particular to hack devices without even the user having clicked on trapped links or buttons, the technique usually used.
In September, Apple had to urgently repair a computer flaw that was exploited by Pegasus.
"NSO will continue to equip intelligence agencies and law enforcement agencies around the world with technologies that save lives and help fight crime and terrorism," responded the Israeli company, which exports to 45 countries. .
In all, according to the associations Amnesty and Forbidden Stories, the Pegasus case concerns a list of 50,000 telephone numbers around the world selected since 2016 by NSO customers.
Relations between France and Morocco have been parasitized since this summer by these revelations.
According to information from the media consortium, an issue of Emmanuel Macron, former Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and 14 members of the government appeared in the list of issues selected by a security service of the Moroccan state, accused of having used spyware.
The mobile phones of at least five French ministers and a diplomat attached to the Elysee Palace have been infected with spyware, several sources familiar with the matter told AFP.
Rabat denied having used Pegasus.
Several legal proceedings have been initiated, notably in France.
UN experts have called for an international moratorium on the sale of surveillance technology until rules are put in place to protect human rights.
Pegasus: The phones of at least five French ministers infected with the software
Apple fixes flaw exploited by Pegasus spyware