Microsoft seeks Biden's backing in fight against Israeli spyware

Microsoft seeks Biden's backing in fight against Israeli spyware company
2 min read
19 December, 2020
Microsoft's President Brad Smith has warned that private companies engineering cybersecurity attacks, such as NSO Group, help proliferate cyber-weapons.
Microsoft urges Biden to back it in a legal case against NSO Group [Getty]
Microsoft has urged Joe Biden's incoming administration to back the technology giant in a legal case against Israeli security firm NSO Group.

Microsoft's President Brad Smith has warned that private companies who engineer cybersecurity attacks, such as NSO Group, help proliferate cyber-weapons.

This means more countries can deploy cyber-attacks, including some against journalists and human rights activists, Smith said according to a Guardian report.

"[This industry] generates cyber-attack proliferation to other governments that have the money but not the people to create their own weapons. In short, it adds another significant element to the cybersecurity threat landscape," Smith said. 

Smith specifically cited litigation in the US between NSO Group and WhatsApp, a popular messaging app that has alleged in a US court that NSO Group's spyware, called Pegasus, was used to target 1,400 of its users over a two-week period in 2019.

About 100 of the targets were members of civil society, including journalists, diplomats, senior government officials, and human rights campaigners, WhatsApp claimed.

NSO Group has denied any involvement in the alleged targeting of civil society.

The Israeli firm has also argued in US courts that it is immune from US law against hacking because it acts on behalf of foreign governments.

While a judge ruling on the case has largely dismissed the defence, NSO has appealed that decision to a higher appeals court.

Smith said Microsoft was joining other technology companies in "opposing this interpretation". It is expected to formally do so in an amicus brief.

"The Biden/Harris administration should weigh in with a similar view," Smith urged.

Founded in 2010 by Israelis Shalev Hulio and Omri Lavie, NSO Group is based in the Israeli hi-tech hub of Herzliya, near Tel Aviv. It says it employs 600 people in Israel and around the world.

The Israeli firm says it only licenses its software to governments for "fighting crime and terror" and that it investigates credible allegations of misuse.

However, the company has been in the headlines since 2016 when researchers accused it of helping spy on an activist in the United Arab Emirates.

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