Microsoft has asked the incoming Biden administration to press a high-profile lawsuit involving WhatsApp and NSO Group, the Israeli spyware company that U.S. software company said was helping to expand cyber weapons.
Comparing NSO Group to 21st Century Soldiers, Microsoft president Brad Smith said the rise of private companies that innovate cybersecurity attacks meant that a growing number of nationalist states could face attacks. cyber-intruders – including journalists and human rights activists.
“[This industry] generating a proliferation of cyber attacks to other governments that have the money but not the people to create their own weapons. In the short term, it adds another important element to the cybersecurity threat scene, ”said Smith.
The comments represented the first time any major US company – other than WhatsApp – has spoken out against the use of private hockey companies by national states, an issue that has been seen as a major cause concern for journalists, human rights activists, and other activists.
Smith specifically cited legalization in the U.S. between NSO Group and WhatsApp, the popular messaging app that is said in a U.S. court that NSO Group spyware, known as Pegasus, was used to target 1,400 of their users over two weeks in 2019.
About 100 of the targets were members of civil society, including journalists, diplomats, senior government officials, and human rights activists, WhatsApp has claimed.
The NSO Group has denied involvement in civil society targeting. The company has said that government clients have control over how its software is used and that its results should only be used to help law enforcement officers find terrorists and criminals. He is said to be investigating all allegations of abuse.
NSO Group declined to comment on Smith’s comments.
The Israeli company has argued in a U.S. lawsuit that it is, in fact, exempt from U.S. law against slavery because it acts on behalf of foreign governments. Although a judge presiding on the case has largely adjourned the case, NSO has appealed that decision to a higher appellate court.
Smith said Microsoft was teaming up with other tech companies to “oppose this definition”. It is expected to do so formally in the amicus summary.
“The Biden / Harris administration should have the same vision,” said Smith.
He said he believed NSO Group’s “uncertain” legal approach made it clear that domestic laws must “clearly and strongly” prohibit companies from letting their software. help governments crack down on illegal and offensive cyber attacks and fund investors ”.
He compared the growth of cyber weapons to other “harmful social activity”, such as human trafficking, narcotics, or terrorism. As governments ensure that airlines do not carry drugs or that investors do not fund the activity, Smith said they must ensure that “American and other investors do not. ‘encourage the growth of this type of activity’.
One tech industry source suggested that Microsoft’s decision to join the group was “very important”, not only because of Smith’s reputation, but because it was a “big sign” that he was not. the tech industry is going to “stand up to it” amid rising evidence. of individuals targeted by spyware.
“People who work for these spyware companies have all sorts of influences. They may start to think twice that companies like Microsoft may not be welcome in the future, ”said the person.