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FBI Came Close to Deploying NSO’s Spyware, May Use Similar Tools in Future – Report

TOI staff
Times of Israel, Nov. 13, 2022

Last year, FBI chief Christopher A. Wray told senators behind closed doors that while the FBI had purchased and used Pegasus, it was “to be able to figure out how bad guys could use it, for example.” Wray made the comments weeks after the US Department of Commerce blacklisted two Israeli phone spyware companies, NSO Group and Candiru, adding them to the list of foreign companies that engage in malicious cyber activities.”
A number of officials from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation made efforts to advance the deployment of Pegasus, the infamous phone-hacking software developed by Israel’s NSO Group, The New York Times reported Saturday.

The FBI officials pushed for the use of the hacking software in late 2020 and the first half of 2021, according to documents revealed after a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit was brought by the newspaper.

“The officials developed advanced plans to brief the bureau’s leadership, and drew up guidelines for federal prosecutors about how the FBI’s use of hacking tools would need to be disclosed during criminal proceedings,” the report said. The report said it was unclear if the FBI planned to use the tech on American nationals or foreign citizens. Earlier this year, the newspaper revealed that the FBI had also tested NSO’s Phantom software, which is capable of hacking US phones.

The FBI ultimately decided against using NSO’s hackware as it became clear that it had been linked to human rights violations around the world and as negative publicity about the tool increased, the report said. According to the documents released to the Times, on July 22, 2021, the decision was made to “cease all efforts regarding the potential use of the NSO product.”

However, according to recent court documents, the report said, the bureau has not ruled out the possibility of deploying similar tech in the future. “Just because the FBI ultimately decided not to deploy the tool in support of criminal investigations does not mean it would not test, evaluate and potentially deploy other similar tools for gaining access to encrypted communications used by criminals,” read a legal brief submitted on the bureau’s behalf last month. … [To read the full article, click here]

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