Apple notified State Department employees of phone hacking linked to NSO Group software

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Apple Inc. last week notified 11 U.S. State Department employees in Uganda that their iPhones were hacked, and investigators have linked the attack to a tool developed by NSO Group, an Israeli technology company that was blacklisted by the Biden administration, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Some of the targeted State Department employees were foreign service officers who are U.S. citizens, while others appear to be locals working for the embassy, the person familiar with the matter said. The hacked phones were linked to State Department email addresses, the person said.

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The alerts appear to be the first confirmed cases of NSO Group’s mobile hacking tool, known as Pegasus, being used to successfully target American officials.

The Biden administration last month placed NSO Group on an export prohibition list that restricts the firm from obtaining some types of technology from the U.S. That came after a recent series of articles published by a global consortium of journalism organizations alleged that Pegasus, one of NSO Group’s main software intrusion tools, has been used by dozens of law-enforcement and intelligence customers around the world to target and break into cellphones belonging to politicians, human-rights activists and journalists.

The Apple logo at an Apple Store, as Apple’s new 5G iPhone 12 went on sale in Brooklyn, New York, U.S. Oct. 23, 2020. (REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo) (Reuters Photos)

“Once the inquiry was received, and before any investigation under our compliance policy, we have decided to immediately terminate relevant customers’ access to the system, due to the severity of the allegations,” NSO Group said in a statement. “To this point, we haven’t received any information nor the phone numbers, nor any indication that NSO’s tools were used in this case.”

NSO Group didn’t identify the customer or customers whose access to its tools were terminated and said it would cooperate with any…

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