Apple sues Israeli security firm over spyware that targeted iPhones

The company claims the spyware, which the Israeli company developed, enabled its phones to be tracked and targeted by spies from 29 countries, including the US and UK

Apple is suing a Dutch tech company and two Israeli officials over claims that their spyware enabled the smartphone giant’s devices to be tracked and targeted by spies from 29 countries, including the US and UK.

The lawsuit, filed at an Illinois state court in Chicago, seeks to invalidate the software developed by NSO Group, an Israeli surveillance firm, and forfeit the profits generated by its sale of the software.

NSO is the subject of a German lawsuit over the same issue.

The lawsuit comes in response to Israeli media reports that NSO had agreed to provide Apple with spyware to allow access to the iPhone operating system for law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

Although access to the operating system is not itself illegal, the lawsuits allege the software provided to Apple was open to “unfair and deceptive trade practices,” and accuses NSO and two Israeli government officials of breaking their contract with the iPhone maker.

Apple has accused the spyware of “overbroad and unlawful surveillance capabilities” that allowed government agencies “permission to access and exploit the phone in the way the NSO spyware takes advantage of”, the lawsuit states.

“We take seriously our responsibility to protect the data and devices we sell to our customers,” Apple spokeswoman Kristin Huguet said. “We’re disappointed to learn that NSO Technologies sold its customers this technology despite the fact it failed to conduct the necessary due diligence and provided false information to Apple that allowed it to do so.”

Customers of the spyware included governments across Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East, Apple said.

The NSO Group declined to comment. In a previous statement, the company said its phones were only “available for customer purchase in Israel”.

Germany’s Kainer Heiligendamm, Deutsche Telekom AG, and a global network of police forces and governments have filed separate lawsuits over the spyware. Kainer Heiligendamm sued NSO in a Hamburg court in December, alleging the spyware enabled a 2012 raid on the home of its chief executive.

The NSO Group is one of the largest makers of surveillance software used by the Israeli government.

Samsung earlier this month filed a similar lawsuit against the spyware maker in the same US court. The suit alleges Samsung phones were also damaged by NSO spyware, and are seeking compensation, a permanent injunction and a jury trial.

Some industry watchers say law enforcement and intelligence agencies have long used spyware as a tactical tool. Spyware can be used for legal investigations, tracking and hunting down suspects, or in emergencies that warrant extrajudicial action.

However, Apple and Samsung say the company has fraudulently marketed the software as legal and internationally sanctioned.

The latest lawsuit is one of many brought over NSA surveillance of technology and communications companies.

The US telecommunications companies AT&T and Verizon were charged with conspiring to violate the Patriot Act by knowingly providing the National Security Agency with unauthorized access to their database systems. The companies were found to have provided massive quantities of data to government spies in secret surveillance programs.

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