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The Israeli Firm NSO—Makers of Pegasus Spyware—Must Be Banned

Apple has just filed a lawsuit against Israeli spyware company NSO for harming Apple and its users. Apple accuses NSO of “[weaponizing] powerful state-sponsored spyware against those who seek to make the world a better place,” thus indirectly incriminating Israel. This will further boost the case for banning all spyware.

The Biden administration’s decision earlier this month to “blacklist” NSO, whose infamous Pegasus software hacks smart phones, and another Israeli company, Candiru, which targets computers, may have been influenced by the growing outrage from US-based tech giants about how NSO’s spyware is undermining their own systems’ security, thus threatening their markets.

The United States sanctioning foreign companies is an old story. It happens all the time, usually in response to some commercial transactions deemed harmful to what Washington likes to call “US interests.” But while targeting Chinese and Russian companies is by now routine, going after high-profile Israeli corporations is unprecedented.

Contrary to Israeli claims, NSO is closely connected to, licensed, regulated, and supported by the Israeli government. Apple’s lawsuit goes further, accusing Israel of “sponsoring” and enabling NSO. The Israeli government, as reported in the Israeli media, “considers NSO’s software a crucial component of its foreign policy and national security.”

The Israeli paper Haaretz has tracked the strong correlation between Israel’s foreign policy objectives and NSO sales in countries led by dictators or authoritarian regimes. It concluded that the Israeli state “worked proactively to get Israeli cyberweapon companies, first and foremost NSO, to operate in these countries, despite their problematic records on democracy and human rights.” Haaretz presented evidence of Israeli government corruption to partially explain the company’s collusion with NSO.

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