Pegasus can infect fully up-to-date Android and iPhone devices, and siphon a target’s emails, Facebook chats, and photos; pick up their GPS location and phone calls, and much more. NSO provides this toolkit, and then customers—law enforcement or intelligence agencies—deploy it themselves on their targets. As the New York Times recently reported, NSO demos its products to potential clients. The company is currently facing a number of lawsuits, including allegations it participated in illegal hacking operations itself.
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On Tuesday, researchers from Citizen Lab published a report saying it had found NSO’s Pegasus product being used in 45 countries, including in the United States.In a statement sent to Motherboard, NSO pushed back and said many of the countries listed by Citizen Lab were not customers, and said that its product cannot work in the United States. Earlier research has noted that Pegasus has a so-called “suicide” feature, which can disable the customer’s deployment of the malware. The source familiar with NSO elaborated, and said this can trigger if the customer is authorized to use the product against targets in one country but the target moves into another.Worldwide, NSO’s customers have purchased the capability to target between roughly 350 to 500 devices (15 to 30 per customer), according to the source. More potential customers approached NSO after the first Citizen Lab report on NSO’s tools being used to target Mansoor, the source said.For every potential sale, NSO has to get explicit permission—an export license—from Israel’s Ministry of Defense. With that green light, the company then asks a so-called business ethics committee to approve the sale.“NSO’s Business Ethics Committee, which includes outside experts from various disciplines, including law and foreign relations, reviews and approves each transaction and is authorized to reject agreements or cancel existing agreements where there is a case of improper use,” NSO said in the statement. The source familiar with NSO said the committee includes two lawyers who are experts in human rights, and three former US officials.