US bans trade with security firm NSO Group over Pegasus spyware

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Surveillance software developer ONS Group can have a very difficult path to travel. The US Department of Commerce has added NSO to its list of entities, thereby banning trading with the company. The move prohibits US companies from doing business with NSO unless they receive explicit permission. It is also unlikely when the rule does not allow licensing exceptions for exports and the United States rejects exams by default.

NSO and the Israeli company Candiru (also on the entity list) are accused of allowing hostile espionage by authoritarian governments. They allegedly supplied spyware like NSO’s Pegasus to “authoritarian governments” which used the tools to hunt down activists, journalists and other criticisms aimed at crushing political dissent. This is part of the Biden-Harris administration’s efforts to make human rights “the center” of US foreign policy, the Commerce Department said.

The latest round of trade bans also affects Russian company Positive Technologies and Singapore-based Computer Security Initiative Consultancy, which have been accused of selling hacking tools.

We asked NSO Group for comment, although its official media contact address was in error. The company has firmly rejected claims that abuse has been permitted in the past, including denials that Pegasus was used to target a murdered journalist. Jamal Khashoggi. NSO said it blocked access for previous abuses, and it even hired a defamation lawyer who accused investigative journalists and their partners of misinterpreting and baseless assumptions.

However, the Commerce Department claims to have evidence of NSO’s actions. The net effect is the same. NSO isn’t necessarily doomed. As Huawei block list member, however, it may struggle to function without access to US partners that it previously used.

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