Earlier this week, The White House decided to ban federal agencies from using foreign spyware. President Biden signed an executive order that stops federal employees from utilizing the power of foreign commercial spyware such as the controversial Pegasus, a spyware developed by Israeli cyber-arms company NSO Group.
White House confirmed that the radical decision is prompted by the finding of commercial spyware installed on the smartphones of fifty overseas government officials. The Biden Administration hopes the new ban will halt the always-increasing number of cyber-attacks on US citizens.
The Biden administration also clarified that they do not wish to support companies whose services allow foreign states and authoritarian regimes to use this malicious software to target citizens without proper legal authorization, safeguards, and oversight. Such powerful surveillance tools have enabled foreign countries to perform political abuse and espionage.
The ban does not apply to locally developed cyber tools, so intelligence agencies like the CIA and the NSA can continue using their self-developed tools. DEA, which has been utilizing foreign-developed spyware tools for years, hopefully already has a US-grown replacement as they will no longer be able to suer foreign help. Many private companies in the cyber security sector in foreign countries such as Russia, Israel, China, and Singapore won’t be able to do business with the US government anymore.
The US government hopes its allies worldwide will follow the example and stop using spyware tools. Companies like the Israeli NSO Group are facing backlash from governments and Big Tech. Facebook’s Meta made the headlines by suing the spyware provider for selling tools that hack into their services. This does not come as a surprise as the spyware is often so powerful that it can copy any infected smartphone or tablet content entirely without the user needing to click on a link.
While the ban does not surprise Russian and Chinese spyware developers, the Israeli NSO Group provides its solution to many US allies and European governments. The country of origin has always been considered the least risky provider of such services. The commercial spyware company has been claiming that it only sells its services to governments which are supposed to be used for counter-terrorism and anti-crime purposes, but this has not always been the case.
Governments go after child sex abusers and terrorists but often misuse the tools by spying on political activists, journalists, and businesspeople. The company’s CEO, Yaron Shohat, made it to Washington earlier this year in an offer to prevent this from happening. Still, his trip was unsuccessful, as the White House has officially stopped using such services for government use.
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