Apple sues NSO Group over Pegasus spyware

Angela Lang/CNET

Apple on Tuesday said it had filed a lawsuit against NSO Group, the Israel-based cybersecurity firm behind the Pegasus spyware that was uncovered on the phones of activists, journalists and executives earlier this year. 

Apple is seeking a permanent injunction to ban NSO Group from using the company's hardware, software or services. The lawsuit also aims to remedy "NSO Group's flagrant violations of US federal and state law, arising out of its efforts to target and attack Apple and its users," the iPhone maker said in a release. 

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"Apple devices are the most secure consumer hardware on the market -- but private companies developing state-sponsored spyware have become even more dangerous," said Craig Federighi, Apple's senior vice president of software engineering, in a release. "While these cybersecurity threats only impact a very small number of our customers, we take any attack on our users very seriously."

The spotlight hit the NSO Group in September after Apple released security updates for its iPhones, iPads, Apple Watches and Mac computers to close a vulnerability reportedly exploited by the invasive Pegasus spyware. The security fix stemmed from research done by a public interest cybersecurity group called Citizen Lab, which found a Saudi activist's phone had been infected with Pegasus. In July, researchers found evidence of attempted or successful installations of Pegasus on 37 phones of activists, journalists and business executives.

Earlier this month, the US Commerce Department added NSO Group to the Entity List, which limits its ability to use American tech, based on evidence that the firm "developed and supplied spyware to foreign governments that used these tools to maliciously target government officials, journalists, businesspeople, activists, academics, and embassy workers."  The NSO Group, which licenses surveillance software to government agencies, says its Pegasus software helps authorities combat criminals and terrorists who take advantage of encryption technology to go dark.  The NSO Group didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on Apple's lawsuit.

More to come.