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US blacklists Israeli spyware company NSO Group

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A fence surrounds the US Department of Commerce in Washington October 5, 2013. (Reuters photo)

The United States has added Israel's NSO Group and Candiru to its trade blacklist after it determined the spyware makers have acted “contrary to the foreign policy and national security interests of the US.”

The finding by the US Commerce Department deals a major blow to the Israeli firms and reveals a deep undercurrent of concern by Washington about the impact of spyware on national security.

The department said Wednesday that the Israeli companies had sold spyware to foreign governments that used the equipment to target government officials, journalists and others.

NSO has sold its spyware – known as Pegasus – to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Hungary and India among others.

The US Commerce Department said it had “reasonable cause to believe, based on specific and articulated facts,” that the companies have been involved, or are involved, or pose “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.”

The latest measure will bar the companies from buying parts and components from American companies without a special license in addition to putting a cloud over the sale of their software globally, including in the US.

Export control experts argue the designation could have a far broader impact on the listed companies than simply limiting their access to US technology.

"Many companies choose to avoid doing business with listed entities completely in order to eliminate the risk of an inadvertent violation and the costs of conducting complex legal analyses," said Kevin Wolf, former assistant secretary of Commerce for Export Administration during the Obama administration.

Meanwhile, an NSO spokesperson said, “NSO Group is dismayed by the decision,” adding, “We will advocate for this decision to be reversed.”

Danna Ingleton, deputy director of Amnesty Tech, said, “NSO Group’s spyware is a tool of repression which has been used around the world to violate human rights.”

Also added to the list on Wednesday are Positive Technologies of Russia, and Computer Security Initiative Consultancy PTE LTD, from Singapore.

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