US blacklists Israeli company accused of spying on Indians

The US government on Wednesday said it had black-listed the Israeli spyware maker NSO Group, which has allegedly been used to target activists, journalists and academics across 10 countries, including in India by the Narendra Modi government.

The NSO Group, and another Israeli company, Candiru, acted “contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States”, the US commerce department said | File Photo

The US government on Wednesday said it had black-listed the Israeli spyware maker NSO Group, which has allegedly been used to target activists, journalists and academics across 10 countries, including in India by the Narendra Modi government.

The New York Times called the decision a “remarkable breach with Israel over one of its most successful technology companies”.

The NSO Group, and another Israeli company, Candiru, acted “contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States”, the commerce department said.

The new designation places NSO in the company of hackers from China and Russia. It comes three months after a consortium of journalists working with the French non-profit group Forbidden Stories, including The Wire in India, revealed multiple cases of journalists and activists who were allegedly hacked by governments, including the Modi-led one.

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NSO said in a statement that it was “dismayed by the decision” and would ask for it to be reversed. The company has claimed — especially recently, as investigations proliferated — that it is pulling licences for its software from governments that are using it to suppress dissent.

Candiru was sanctioned based on evidence that it supplied spyware to foreign governments. Positive Technologies of Russia, which was targeted with sanctions last April for its work with Russian intelligence, and Computer Security Initiative Consultancy of Singapore were added to the list for trafficking in hacking tools, according to the commerce department’s announcement.

“The United States is committed to aggressively using export controls to hold companies accountable that develop, traffic, or use technologies to conduct malicious activities that threaten the cybersecurity of members of civil society, dissidents, government officials and organizations here and abroad,” Gina Raimondo, the commerce secretary, said in a statement.

“NSO Group and Candiru (Israel) were added to the Entity List based on evidence that these entities developed and supplied spyware to foreign governments that used these tools to maliciously target government officials, journalists, businesspeople, activists, academics, and embassy workers,” it said.

“These tools have also enabled foreign governments to conduct transnational repression, which is the practice of authoritarian governments targeting dissidents, journalists and activists outside of their sovereign borders to silence dissent. Such practices threaten the rules-based international order.”

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