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  • Matthew Spencer - Tech Journalist

US State Department phones hacked by Israeli spyware

Israeli spyware is not uncommon, as we have seen earlier on other news, some published in Tech News Hub. Another statement came to our attention published by top news publisher CNBC and 16 others directly naming Israel for the faulty action. At least nine iPhones were hacked belonging to the US State Department employees.



Israel based NSO group is known for their spyware which is the top player in the cybersecurity world. Though the spyware variant is unknown, it is estimated that it was sourced from the same NSO group from Israel. NSO group provides spyware to military officials, government essentials to monitor terrorists and help in cybersecurity functionalities.

Within the last few months of 2021, the hacks took place. At that time, those nine officials were working on or with Uganda, and it's thought that there were some security implications that the spyware providers took an interest in.


Though the group knows many hacks, it is the largest one taking place among US officials. The WashingtonPost published news on the same matter, which surfaced a few essential pieces of information regarding the hack. NSO said phones with US +1 numbers are not hackable regarding location. At the same time, they shined information regarding what could be hacked. And that is the same phones used in different parts of the world. It is pretty alarming as a small percentage get to use +1 numbers.



The NSO group repeatedly said the US phones are not hackable, but other ones worldwide are not so secure. This vulnerability is alarming as even Americans travelling overseas use different numbers, leaving them out of protected areas.


Over 50,000 phone numbers were affected as per previous articles we published here, of which the NSO group said they had no intention to do that, and they didn't. That hack included several journalists, human rights activists, aid workers, diplomats, and influential personalities.


It was pretty dangerous as some of those people got direct protection from the government. If people can be hacked, general people are doomed and can be monitored anytime.

An NSO spokesman said, 'if our investigation shows these actions indeed happened with NSO's tools, such customer will be terminated permanently, and legal actions will take place.' Also said, 'cooperate with any relevant government authority and present the full information we will have.'


Further comment from Apple officials was not received, and State Department spokespeople also declined to comment.


The software's from NSO doesn't only read encrypted messages but also can browse through a private gallery of photos, videos, sensitive data stored on the device. It passes through Apple's top security system quite quickly. Typical malware or spyware needs a user to click or perform a specific action to trigger the script. But the NSO spyware is so dangerous; it takes just a text message or phone call.


Though Apple did not disclose who else was attacked or the attacker's name, security officials are looking into the matter much profoundly. However, Apple did notify the US government officials whose phones were compromised with the associated email address provided on the device. Associated email for government officials has state.gov address, and it's easily identifiable in case something like this takes place.


iMessage requires spyware was triggered throughout the year, and many people were compromised. Still, we have no clear idea of how much data is allocated by the spyware group, but our best guess is they took sensitive information for later use.


NSO, in public response, said their software technology is used to stop terrorism, and they have all the controls so people within the company can't misuse the tech. Even Reuters couldn't identify the cyber attacker, but it is thought that more information on it will reveal after a few days of forensic examination.

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