US State Department Phones Have Been Hacked And Pwned By NSO Spyware

US State Department Phones Have Been Hacked And Pwned BY NSO Spyware
The iPhones used by at least nine US State Department employees have been compromised using the notorious Pegasus spyware provided by NSO Group, sources say. The recent cybersecurity intrusion, which began in the last several months, seems to be focused on State Department employees either in Uganda, or focused on matters involving that particular East African nation.

Four people familiar with the alarming hack came forward and reported it. NSO Group, an Israeli-based technology company, claims it only licenses its tools to governmental agencies involved in intelligence and law enforcement. A spokesperson for the NSO Group said it would cancel access to the tool for the relevant customers and further investigate the attack.

Hack Still Under Investigation With Focus On East African Nation, Uganda

An NSO spokesperson said, "If our investigation shall show these actions indeed happened with NSO's tools, such customer will be terminated permanently and legal actions will take place”. The spokesperson also added that NSO would "cooperate with any relevant government authority and present the full information we will have”. This hack represents the largest intrusion on US officials ever using the NSO Group tool. The identity of the hackers remains unknown.

Uganda, over the past several months, has been embroiled in controversy. Its most recent election was marred by reports of irregularities, protests, and a government crackdown. US State Department employees have attempted to meet with opposition leaders there, causing tension between them and the Ugandan government. Even so, there’s no indication yet that the recent hacks are related to that rift.

With that said, it’s worth noting that Ugandan government leaders have also been targeted recently by actors using iPhone spyware. On November 23, 2021, the president of the Ugandan Democratic Party awoke to a notification from Apple that his iPhone had been compromised. Apple only recently began issuing these warnings, and is also suing NSO Group over the Pegasus tool’s use to spy on iPhone owners.