Cybersecurity

US defense firm ends talks to buy Israeli spyware from controversial firm

Associated Press/Sebastian Scheiner

U.S. defense contractor L3Harris has reportedly ended its bid to buy spyware and hacking tools from Israeli tech company NSO Group. 

According to news reports, L3Harris ended the talks following security concerns raised by the Biden administration last month that the acquisition of the spyware would “pose a serious counterintelligence and security risk to U.S. personnel and systems.”

U.S. officials familiar with the matter told The Washington Post that the defense firm “reached out to the U.S. government and said they would not be moving forward” with the acquisition a few days after the concerns were made public.

L3Harris reportedly began the negotiations to buy NSO’s Group spyware — known as Pegasus — last month, but details surrounding the deal remained unknown.

The administration has also raised concerns that the spyware has been used by foreign governments to spy on human rights activists, journalists and politicians. The reports prompted the Department of Commerce in November to add NSO Group to its entity list, blacklisting the Israeli company and limiting its ability to use U.S. technology

A senior administration official told The Hill in a statement that “the U.S. government was not involved in and did not support or attempt to facilitate any reported potential transaction involving a foreign commercial surveillance software company on the Department of Commerce’s entity list.”

Although NSO Group was not identified in the statement, the U.S. official said that the “intelligence community expressed concerns after learning about the possibility of the sale, which informed the administration’s concerns.”

Another source told the Post that “the moment there was … definitive pushback” from the U.S. government, including the White House, “there was a view [within the company] that there was no way the company was moving forward with this.”

In November, Apple sued NSO Group over the use of spyware on iPhones. The tech giant sought to ban the Israeli firm from using Pegasus on its hardware. 

In the lawsuit, Apple accuses the firm of being “amoral 21st century mercenaries who have created highly sophisticated cyber-surveillance machinery that invites routine and flagrant abuse,” The Associated Press reported

Last week, Apple announced that it will be releasing a new security feature called “lockdown mode” intended to protect its devices against spyware deployed by state-sponsored hackers.

The Hill has reached out to L3Harris and NSO Group for comment.

Tags Biden defense contractors Israel L3Harris NSO Group Spyware US defense contractors
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