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FBI Purchased Now-Banned NSO Group Spyware

The Pegasus spyware created by the Israeli firm NSO Group was one of the top cybersecurity stories of 2021 after it was revealed the software had been used by governments against activists and journalists, leading to the company being blacklisted by the Biden administration and a lawsuit from Apple (see “Apple Lawsuit Goes After Spyware Firm NSO Group,” 24 November 2021).

Now an extensive New York Times investigation reveals that the FBI purchased Pegasus in 2019 and spent years testing it before eventually deciding against its use. Also revealed is the fact the Israeli government maintains controls over who could license Pegasus from the NSO Group, entangling the spyware in global diplomacy. The moral of the story would seem to be that cyberweapons are now as much a bargaining token in global diplomacy as fighter jets were in the past. The difference is that we’re all using the same devices as the criminals, terrorists, activists, journalists, and others targeted by government intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

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