FBI admits buying spyware from NSO Group

FBI officials confirmed that they bought the powerful Pegasus spyware from the NSO Group, although this product has long been used for surveillance on journalists, activists and human rights activists around the world. Law enforcement officers say they just wanted to “be aware of new technologies and methods.”

Let me remind you that last year, public attention turned to the aforementioned Pegasus spyware produced by the Israeli company NSO Group. The fact is that in the summer of 2021, the human rights organization Amnesty International, the non-profit project Forbidden Stories, as well as more than 80 journalists from a consortium of 17 media organizations in ten countries of the world published the results of a joint investigation dedicated to Pegasus.

After this publication, Pegasus became widely known outside the information security community, and the NSO Group had problems. So, in November 2021, the US Department of Commerce blacklisted the NSO Group, banning the company from access to American technology, and Apple sued the NSO Group, calling the company “immoral mercenaries of the 21st century.”

Now law enforcement officers claim that they simply wanted to “keep abreast of new technologies and methods.” The statement emphasizes that the FBI received a limited license from an Israeli firm “only for product testing and evaluation,” but never used the Pegasus on the job or as part of any investigation.

Ron Deibert
Ron Deibert

However, now the FBI is being criticized for the very fact of cooperation with the NSO Group. Critics wonder why the US’s top law enforcement agency ever had to pay for access to an infamous spy tool that has long been scrutinized by security experts.

Putting millions of dollars into the pockets of a company that is known to have repeatedly contributed to massive human rights violations, possible criminal acts and operations that threaten US national security … this is definitely worrying. It seems like a terribly counterproductive, irresponsible and ill-conceived way to stay up to date with spy technology.said Ron Deibert, head of Citizen Lab, whose company has been tracking Pegasus usage since 2016.

An FBI spokesman did not say how much or when the government paid the NSO Group, but according to The New York Times, in 2019 the FBI received a $5 million annual license from the NSO Group. In addition, The Guardian quoted its own source familiar with the deal as saying that the FBI later paid another $4 million to renew the license but never actually used the spyware for its intended purpose.

The FBI is working diligently to keep abreast of new technologies and techniques, not only to explore their potential legal uses, but also to fight crime, to protect the American people and our civil liberties. This means that we regularly identify, evaluate, and test technical solutions and services for a variety of reasons, including potential operational and security issues they may create in the wrong hands.The FBI purchased a limited license only to test and evaluate the product, but did not use it in any investigations. Since our testing and evaluation has been completed, we have decided not to continue using this software, the license is no longer enforcement officers told reporters in an official comment.

Let me also remind you that we wrote that Attackers infected iPhones of American diplomats with NSO Group spyware.

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Daniel Zimmermann

Daniel Zimmermann has been writing on security and malware subjects for many years and has been working in the security industry for over 10 years. Daniel was educated at the Saarland University in Saarbrücken, Germany and currently lives in New York.

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