Apple sues maker of infamous Pegasus spyware that targets iPhones

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Pegasus spyware FAQ
Apple is going to court to block further development of NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware.
Photo: NSO Group/Cult of Mac

Apple filed a lawsuit Tuesday against NSO Group, the company that makes Pegasus spyware used by some countries to hack into iPhones. Apple says the goal is to hold NSO Group “accountable for the surveillance and targeting of Apple users.”

NSO Group claims Pegasus is only used by governments to fight crime, but there are accusations that it’s being used it to hack the smartphones of activists, politicians, journalists and other individuals.

Apple v. NSO Group: Pegasus gets its day in court

After The Citizen Lab found that Pegasus was being used to surveil dissidents, Apple seeks a court injunction that would allow it to permanently ban NSO Group from using any Apple software, services or devices.

Apple described the move as a warning shot to NSO as well as other potential spyware-makers, according to The New York Times.

“This is Apple saying: If you do this, if you weaponize our software against innocent users, researchers, dissidents, activists or journalists, Apple will give you no quarter,” Ivan Krstic, head of Apple security engineering and architecture, told The Times.

The iPhone-maker also wants a cash award to cover the time it spent countering Pegasus. Apple says it will contribute any money awarded in the lawsuit to organizations pursuing cybersurveillance research and advocacy. And it’s starting off with a $10 million donation.

“State-sponsored actors like the NSO Group spend millions of dollars on sophisticated surveillance technologies without effective accountability. That needs to change,” said Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering.

This is just the latest blow to NSO Group. The U.S. Commerce Department recently blacklisted NSO for providing spyware used against political dissidents.

Hunting Pegasus

To be clear, Pegasus is not being used by criminal gangs against average iPhone users. But those seeking political change in repressive countries are at risk.

That’s why Apple is working to fight Pegasus in more ways than a court battle. That includes making iPhones harder to hack.

The latest security improvements are included in iOS 15. “While NSO Group spyware continues to evolve, Apple has not observed any evidence of successful remote attacks against devices running iOS 15 and later versions,” Apple said in a statement. Those with older devices can get many of the same protections from iOS 12.5.5.

Going forward, Apple will support the researchers at Citizen Lab with pro-bono technical, threat intelligence and engineering assistance to aid their independent research mission. And, where appropriate, Apple said it will offer the same assistance to similar organizations.

Source: Apple