Apple Drags “Amoral 21st Century Mercenary” NSO Group to Court, Seeks Damages


Tech giant Apple is reportedly suing NSO Group, the developer of the infamous Pegasus spyware. The Cupertino-based company, ranking 4th in the Fortune Global 500, alleges that NSO Group enabled the spying of iPhone users by abusing their access to Apple services and servers.

Apple has decided to drag Israeli tech company NSO Group to court, accusing the latter of enabling the spying of iPhone users. The iPhone maker is suing the Israeli company along with its parent company, Q Cyber Technologies, for its alleged role in enabling violations of multiple U.S. federal laws through the use of Pegasus, a spyware the NSO Group develops.

In its lawsuit, Apple is claiming financial damages to the tune of $75,000, not to mention human rights abuse of Apple users. The company has also demanded a permanent injunction from the federal court where it filed the lawsuit, to ban NSO Group from using any Apple software, services, or devices.

Pegasus is a military-grade spyware used for surveillance of users of iOS and Android devices. The Israeli cyber company sells the Pegasus spyware to foreign  governments to let them eavesdrop on device data (including messages and other forms of communication) of terrorists, dissidents, and other kinds of criminals.

Apple’s complaintOpens a new window opens as follows: “Defendants are notorious hackers—amoral 21st century mercenaries who have created highly sophisticated cyber-surveillance machinery that invites routine and flagrant abuse. They design, develop, sell, deliver, deploy, operate, and maintain offensive and destructive malware and spyware products and services that have been used to target, attack, and harm Apple users, Apple products, and Apple.”

In July this year, Amnesty International alleged through a reportOpens a new window that the high-tech spyware was used to snoop on journalists, human rights lawyers and activists, businessmen, academics, politicians, etc., besides criminals by several governments and that the NSO Group enabled it.

Naturally, controversy followed with such explosive revelations which led to the U.S. Department of Commerce blacklisting the NSO Group and CandiruOpens a new window , another Israeli company, earlier in November. The Dept of Commerce added the two companies, along with some others, to the Entity List, which bans them from purchasing software and related components without a license from U.S vendors.

Apple said it has already patched the vulnerability that enabled the ‘FORCEDENTRY’ exploit that Pegasus leveraged. “The spyware was used to attack a small number of Apple users worldwide with dangerous malware and spyware,” Apple saidOpens a new window . 

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“Apple’s lawsuit seeks to ban NSO Group from further harming individuals by using Apple’s products and services. The lawsuit also seeks redress for NSO Group’s flagrant violations of US federal and state law, arising out of its efforts to target and attack Apple and its users.” The company clarified that the NSO Group didn’t actually hack Apple servers but did abuse Apple services and servers to perpetrate attacks on Apple’s users and data stored on users’ devices. 

Previously, NSO Group has drawn criticism from Microsoft, Alphabet (parent company of Google), Cisco, etc. Meta Platforms-owned (formerly Facebook) WhatsApp has even sued NSO Group in 2019Opens a new window for allegedly sending malware to 1,400 of its users through WhatsApp servers for surveillance.

In a scathing denunciation of NSO Group, Ron DeibertOpens a new window , director of the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto said, “Mercenary spyware firms like NSO Group have facilitated some of the world’s worst human rights abuses and acts of transnational repression, while enriching themselves and their investors.”

Citizen Lab is the same research group that discovered the vulnerability apparently leveraged by the NSO Group. The Israeli company, which in July said it won’t respond to media inquiries, statedOpens a new window :

“NSO Group is dismayed by the decision given that our technologies support U.S. national security interests and policies by preventing terrorism and crime, and thus we will advocate for this decision to be reversed.”

“We look forward to presenting the full information regarding how we have the world’s most rigorous compliance and human rights programs that are based on the American values we deeply share, which already resulted in multiple terminations of contacts with government agencies that misused our products.”

Besides $75,000 in damages, Apple expects accounting and disgorgement of not only the data of Apple users that NSO Group obtained, but also any profits it may have accrued. The Cupertino giant also seeks a permanent injunction against the NSO Group to restrain it from developing, distributing, using, and/or causing or enabling others to use any spyware on Apple products, whether hardware, software, or applications.

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