Microsoft, Google, Cisco, Dell join legal battle against hacking company

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Tech giants including Microsoft and Google on Monday joined Facebook’s legal struggle against hacking company NSO, submitting an amicus brief in federal court which warned that the Israeli company’s instruments were “powerful and dangerous.”

The brief, filed prior to the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, opens a new front in Facebook’s lawsuit against NSO, which it registered last year after it was disclosed that the cyber surveillance company had exploited a bug in Facebook-owned immediate messaging program WhatsApp to assist surveil more than 1,400 people worldwide.

NSO has argued that, as it sells digital break-in tools to police and spy agencies, it must gain from “sovereign immunity” – a legal philosophy that normally insulates foreign governments from lawsuits. NSO dropped that argument from the Northern District of California in July and has since appealed to the Ninth Circuit to have the judgment overturned.

Microsoft, Google, Cisco, Dell Technologies-owned VMWare and the Washington-based Internet Association joined forces with Facebook to argue against that, stating that awarding sovereign resistance to NSO would lead to a proliferation of hacking technology and “more foreign governments with powerful and dangerous cyber surveillance tools.”

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That subsequently “means dramatically more opportunities for those tools to fall into the wrong hands and be used nefariously,” the brief argues.

NSO – that did not immediately return a message seeking comment – asserts that its products are utilized to fight crime. But human rights defenders and technologists at areas like Toronto-based Citizen Lab and London-based Amnesty International have documented instances where NSO technology has been used to target reporters, lawyers and even nutritionists calling for soda taxes.

Citizen Lab released a report on Sunday alleging that NSO’s phone-hacking technology was set up to hack three dozen mobiles belonging for journalists, producers, anchors, and executives at Qatar-based broadcaster Al Jazeera as well as a device belonging to a reporter in London-based Al Araby TV.

NSO’s spyware has been also been connected to the slaying of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered and dismembered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018. Khashoggi’s buddy, dissident video blogger Omar Abdulaziz, has argued that it was the Saudi government’s capability to watch their WhatsApp messages that resulted in his death.

NSO has been denied hacking Khashoggi, but has thus far declined to comment on if its technology has been used to spy on other people in his group.

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The team at Platform Executive hope you have enjoyed the ‘Microsoft, Google, Cisco, Dell join legal battle against hacking company‘ article. Initial reporting via our official content partners at Thomson Reuters. Reporting by Raphael Satter. Editing by Sonya Hepinstall and Stephen Coates.

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