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NSO Group of Pegasus fame on US trade blacklist for ‘malicious cyber activities’

Move comes months after reports said NSO Group’s Pegasus was used to attempt or carry out surveillance on phones of govt leaders, journalists, activists and lawyers, among others.

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New Delhi: The United States has added the Israeli spyware company NSO Group and three other firms to an ‘entity list’ for “malicious cyber activities”, the country’s Department of Commerce said in a statement Wednesday. The Israeli company, which owns the controversial Pegasus spyware and claims to only deal with governments and intelligence agencies, expressed dismay at the decision, Reuters reported.

The move comes several months after NSO Group found itself at the centre of global investigative reports that found the agency’s spyware was allegedly used to attempt or carry out surveillance on the phones of government leaders, journalists, activists and lawyers, among others. 

The entity list features entities that are believed to be “involved, are involved, or pose a significant risk of being or becoming involved in activities contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States”, according to the US’ Federal Register.

The entity list comes under the purview of the US’ Export Administration Regulations, the Department of Commerce agency responsible for issuing export licences for certain physical products, as well as technologies, software or services.

Being on the list makes US exports to the entities subject to a licence. The listed firms face “additional licence requirements”, and limits on “the availability of most licence exceptions for, exports, reexports, and transfers (in-country)”.

The other firms added to the list with NSO Group are fellow Israeli spyware agency Candiru, Russia’s Positive Technologies and Singapore’s Computer Security Initiative Consultancy. The classification kicked in Thursday.

NSO Group ‘will advocate for reversal’

In a statement to Reuters, an NSO Group spokesperson said they will “advocate for this decision to be reversed”. 

“NSO will present information regarding its ‘rigorous’ compliance and human rights programs, ‘which already resulted in multiple terminations of contacts with government agencies that misused our products’,” the Reuters report said.

It remains unclear what impact the listing would have on the NSO Group’s future in places outside the US, such as India. 

“An official from the Indian Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology said that though addition of companies to the list does not outright bar any non-US company or country from doing business with such companies, most 

‘avoid’ doing business for the ‘fear of sanctions’,” The Indian Express reported.

(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)

Also Read: The NSO Group behind Pegasus list & its murky past — from Mexico to Jamal Khashoggi to India


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