The US considers Israel a 'friend' in the Middle East, with the two countries sharing cordial ties for years. Taking advantage of this, the hackers have used a spyware, manufactured by an Israeli company, to steal data from Apple Inc iPhones of at least nine US State Department officials.
Reports suggest that an unknown assailant recently used a sophisticated spyware, developed by the Israel-based NSO Group, to steal data. It may be noted that the NSO spyware can capture encrypted messages, photos and other sensitive information from infected phones, apart from turning them into recording devices for monitoring surroundings.
According to sources close to the State Department, the hacking has been taking place for the last few months, as the main target of the hackers are US officials based in Uganda. The US officials, dealing with matters related to the East African country, have also been targeted. Earlier, the NSO Group mentioned, in a report, some numbers with potential targets, including top US officials.
A couple of days ago, the Israeli Group issued a statement, saying that it had no information about hackers, who used their tools to hack phones of US officials. However, the NSO Group has decided to investigate the incident. "If our investigation shall show these actions indeed happened with NSO's tools, such customer will be terminated permanently and legal actions will take place," stressed a senior spokesperson of the Group. He also assured the State Department that NSO would "cooperate with any relevant government authority and present the full information we will have".
Earlier, the top NSO management claimed that it used to sell its products to Law Enforcement Agencies of different countries and intelligence clients, as the spyware helped them monitor security threats. However, the State Department claimed that the spyware was used in surveillance operations, as well, by the hackers.
Although officials at the Embassy of Uganda in Washington DC have refused to make comments on this particular issue, a State Department spokesperson has revealed that the Commerce Department would soon place the Israeli company on an entity list, and ask the US companies not to do business with the NSO Group and another spyware firm. According to the spokesperson, it is unfortunate that hackers have used the Israeli spyware to target government officials, journalists, businessmen, activists, academics, and even embassy workers.
Meanwhile, experts are nor sure whether this incident will have a negative impact on US-Israel ties. A top official of the Joe Biden Administration stressed that the threat to US officials on foreign soils has prompted Washington DC to take action against companies, like NSO, and to pursue new global discussion about spying limits.