NSO Spyware Infects United Kingdom Government Computers

  • By Patrick Ryan
  • Apr 21, 2022

The NSO Group has placed spyware on computers, servers, and networks used by the United Kingdom’s federal government. To be more specific, the spyware compromised the computing equipment used by the UK Prime Minister’s office.  

Who Reported the UK Government Spyware Attack?

Citizen Lab, a group of digital security research specialists at the University of Toronto, reported the details of the spyware attack. Citizen Lab studies the use of technology in the context of human rights abuse. The digital security company alerted the UK government to the commercial spyware attack, noting how it is likely used as a component of espionage.

When Did the Spyware Monitoring Begin?

According to Citizen Lab, the spyware attacks began in 2020 and progressed through 2021 and 2022. The initial infections were of the Pegasus spyware variety. Citizen Lab representatives indicate infections were found in government officials’ computing devices at Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. However, the infections pertaining to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are tied to Pegasus digital miscreants from Jordan, Cyprus, India, and the United Arab Emirates.

What is the Purpose of the Spyware Attack?

The spyware was placed on the computing equipment used by the Prime Minister’s office to steal information. The UK government has been alerted multiple times in recent years that governmental leaders’ phones were laden with spyware. In fact, the alerts were specific to the point that they noted the spyware put on the government officials’ phones was from the NSO Group.

What is Known About the NSO Group and Its Spyware?

The NSO Group is a hacking collective based in Israel. The NSO Group allegedly sells products to governmental intelligence units and law enforcement agencies. However, some of those who work in the digital security sector insist the supposed NSO target list is legitimate. The accusation is that the NSO Group’s products are used for more than mere surveillance. Some industry leaders believe the NSO Group zeroes in on top politicians such as Boris Johnson and the President of France, Emmanuel Macron.  

Apple and WhatsApp have sued NSO for supposedly taking advantage of zero-day fallibilities to infect targeted users. Some countries have even gone as far as halting the sales of NSO Group products within their borders. The European Union has called for an across-the-board ban on the NSO Group’s software.

What Does the Spyware Do to Affected Computing Devices?

According to the Supervisor of the European Data Protection group, the spyware in question compromises computing devices, including smartphones that run on Android or iOS. The spyware supposedly turns those computing devices into transmitters that information to the hackers. If your business has not yet added digital security safeguards to protect against spyware, now is the time to do so.

Was the Spyware Successful?

It appears that the UK federal government’s sensitive information monitored by the spyware has been successfully exfiltrated. However, a representative from the NSO Group has disputed reports that its digital security professionals were involved in transmitting spyware to computers used by the UK federal government.  

The NSO Group representative even stated that the reports pertaining to the supposed hacking of UK officials’ phones are misleading and wrong, denying all involvement. The NSO spokesperson also noted that the allegations are unrelated to the products, even insisting the group does not have the capability to perform such an attack.

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