US Blacklists Israeli 'Spyware' Maker

John Lister's picture

The US government has blacklisted an Israeli company that made spyware used by national governments. NSO Group's tools have reportedly been used against diplomats, journalists and political activists.

The move is as much a political signal as a practical measure. NSO being added to the group means US businesses must apply for a license to supply it, which will likely be refused. This would primarily affect cyber researchers who sell it information about known vulnerabilities.

Although there's no immediate ban on US organizations using NSO's services, it's now clearly frowned upon.

Threat To US Security

The US Commerce Department said it had "reasonable cause to believe, based on specific and articulated facts, that [NSO] has been involved, or is involved, or poses a significant risk of being or becoming involved in activities that are contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States." (Source:

NSO is the company behind Pegasus, a spyware package designed to be remotely installed on a victim's phone. It can then retrieve files such as photographs, intercept text messages, record phone conversations and even use the microphone as a listening tool.

Although NSO says it sells the package to governments that want to monitor suspected criminals, critics say it has been abused to spy on political opponents and reporters, including US citizens.

Politically Surprising

Politically, the move is a surprise as previous blacklisting has mainly affected businesses in countries that are hostile to the US such as China or Russia, whereas Israel enjoys a warmer relationship. Indeed, the Commerce Department stressed that "We are not taking action against countries or governments where these entities are located." (Source:

The blacklisting will likely revive debate in Israel where officials have debated whether tools such as Pegasus count as weapons and should be subject to the same export control process as physical weapons when sold to foreign governments.

What's Your Opinion?

Was the US right to make this move? Should such software be treated as a weapon when it could be sold to a foreign government? Is government use of spyware ever justified and can it be protected against misuse?

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Navy vet's picture

Biden hates anything Israeli almost as much as he hates the US.

beach.boui's picture

There must have been a commercial break on Fake Fox News. Just time enough to troll.

jim.361036_9312's picture

Ah, I see you must be from the party of Unity.