NSO Group has quickly become one of the most reviled security firms, even being banned by the US government. Despite that, it appears the FBI was one of its customers.
News broke in mid-2021 that NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware was being used by authoritarian governments to spy on journalists, civil rights activists, and US diplomats. The US Commerce Department ultimately ended up blacklisting the company, preventing any US companies from doing business with it.
Amid the controversy surrounding the NSO Group, it has now come out that the FBI was one of its customers, according to The Seattle Times, a revelation that is not sitting well with many groups.
“Spending millions of dollars to line the pockets of a company that is widely known to serially facilitate widespread human rights abuses, possible criminal acts, and operations that threaten the U.S.’s own national security is definitely troubling,” Ron Deibert, director of Citizen Lab, told the Times. Citizen Lab is an internet watchdog with the University of Toronto, that has been exposing Pegasus hacks since 2016.
The FBI has been tight-lipped about its relationship with NSO Group, but reports form The New York Times and The Guardian indicate it initially paid $5 million for a one-year license, before renewing it for $4 million. The Guardian’s sources say the FBI never actually used the software.