US puts Israeli spyware firm NSO Group on trade blacklist

In an attempt to combat the increasing surveillance threat from technology companies, the US added NSO Group, an Israeli military spyware company, to a blacklist.
NSO and Candiru, a Tel Aviv-based smaller company, were added to the US commerce department's so-called entity listing on Wednesday. This would limit US technology exports to these companies.

They are both part of an expanding Israeli cyber industry, which often recruits soldiers from elite units of the army and sells software that allows clients to hack cell phones remotely.

Last year, it was revealed that Pegasus, a military-grade software licensed by NSOs, was used to target smartphones belonging 37 journalists, human rights advocates, and other prominent figures.

According to the company, it only sells its weapon to countries in order to combat terrorism and serious crimes and with the approval from the Israeli government. A spokesperson did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

Microsoft Research and the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab found that Candiru exploited Microsoft and Google product vulnerabilities, which allowed governments to hack more then 100 journalists, activists, and political dissidents around the world.

According to the US commerce department, the US Commerce Department said that the US had evidence that the companies developed and provided spyware to foreign governments. This was to malign government officials, journalists and businesspeople as well as activists and academics.

These tools also allow foreign governments to conduct transnational suppression, which is the practice by authoritarian governments of targeting dissidents and journalists outside their sovereign borders in order to silence dissent. According to the department, such practices are a threat to the rules-based international system.

US commerce also added Positive Technologies, a Russian company, to its list. The Computer Security Initiative Consultancy, based in Singapore, was also added to the US Commerce Department's list. They are accused of trafficking in cyber tools that allow unauthorised access to computer networks.

Gina Raimondo (US commerce secretary) stated that the US is committed to aggressively using export control to hold companies responsible that develop, traffic or use technology to commit malicious activities that threaten cyber security of dissidents and members of civil society.