Apple says it will notify users whose iPhones were hacked by spyware

Apple says it will notify users whose iPhones and devices have been compromised by state-sponsored hacking efforts, according to a support document.

The tech giant published its plans to inform these hacking victims last week after Apple filed a lawsuit against NSO Group claiming that the Israeli company broke U.S. law by selling spyware to hack into iPhones.

When Apple detects that a user has been targeted by state-sponsored hacking, the company will send an iMessage and email to the addresses on file and a Threat Notification will be displayed when the user signs into the Apple ID, the tech giant said.

“These users are individually targeted because of who they are or what they do,” Apple said in the support document.

“Unlike traditional cybercriminals, state-sponsored attackers apply exceptional resources to target a very small number of specific individuals and their devices, which makes these attacks much harder to detect and prevent.”

“State-sponsored attacks are highly complex, cost millions of dollars to develop, and often have a short shelf life,” Apple said. “The vast majority of users will never be targeted by such attacks.”

Apple did not respond to NBC News requests for comment.

The announcement came as Apple filed a lawsuit against NSO Group claiming the Israeli company broke U.S. law by selling spyware to hack into iPhones.

The company has long insisted that it only leases its technology to legitimate governments for the purposes of tracking criminals and enforcing laws and interests.

“Apple’s notification of victims of espionage is beginning to reveal what a real horror show NSO Group’s services have facilitated,” Ron Deibert of University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab said in an email.

“We are now learning of numerous individuals who are neither terrorists or criminals, but journalists, students, members of legitimate political opposition and other members of civil society worldwide whose phones were hacked by governments using Pegasus,” he wrote.

“This abuse is no surprise given that there are no international controls over spyware companies like NSO Group. The company’s executives really are, as Apple rightly pointed out in their legal complaint, ‘amoral 21st century mercenaries.’”

In 2017 NBC News reported that Pegasus was used to target prominent journalists, lawyers, anti-corruption activists and government officials, according to research published by the Citizen Lab.

The Saudi government and its close ally the United Arab Emirates are suspected to have targeted three women who spoke out against it: a Lebanese broadcaster, a Saudi equestrian, and an Emirati human rights activist, according to an NBC News report from August.

Earlier this month, the Biden administration imposed limits on NSO Group’s access to U.S. components and technology by requiring their permission for exports.

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