The FBI has launched an investigation into NSO Group Technologies, an Israeli spyware supplier, according to four people familiar with the matter. The main elements of the investigation are understood to be whether the company’s technology was misused in hacking Into U.S. residents and businesses and in government intelligence gathering.
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An FBI official said the investigation actually began as early as 2017 to find out if nSO could obtain any of the code needed to hack a smartphone from U.S. hackers. The NSO says it only sells spyware and technical support to the government, which will be used to track down suspected terrorists and other criminals. Although the NSO says it has never targeted the average U.S. mobile phone user, many cybersecurity experts have questioned it.
After Facebook filed a lawsuit last October, the FBI conducted more interviews with tech industry experts, accusing NSO itself of using vulnerabilities in Facebook’s WhatsApp messaging service to steal 1,400 users, according to two people who spoke to agents and Justice Department officials.
“We have never contacted any U.S. law enforcement agency on such issues,” NSO said in a statement from Mercury Public Affairs Strategy. The NSO did not answer other questions about the behavior of its employees, but has previously said that government customers were customers of the hackers. An FBI spokesman said the agency “follows the U.S. Department of Justice’s policy of neither confirming nor denying the existence of any investigation, so we are unable to provide further comment.” “
Part of the FBI investigation is aimed at understanding NSO’s operations and the technical assistance it provides to its customers, according to two people familiar with the matter. James Baker, the FBI’s general counsel, said that if a supplier of hacking tools had sufficient evidence or was involved in improper use, they could be prosecuted under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) or the Eavesdropping Act. CFAA criminalizes unauthorized access to computers or computer networks, and the Eavesdropping Act prohibits the use of tools to intercept phone calls, text messages or e-mail.
In 2015, after a gunman shot and killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California, the U.S. Department of Justice asked Apple to develop a software that would allow law enforcement to unlock suspects’ phones.
The FBI sued Apple in The Central District Court of California. In the lawsuit, Apple argued that hacking its encrypted devices would put all users’ data and privacy at risk, and apple scored a preliminary hearing. In 2016, the FBI eventually dropped the case because they found a third-party agency to help unlock the device, which has long been rumored to be the NSO Group, an Israeli security firm.
The FBI later said there was no information about the case on the phone, although the agency said the device’s password was needed in part to search for accomplices who might be planning further attacks. In 2016, Apple also upgraded the security of its devices to prevent the government from spying on user data.