February 24, 2024

Google Calls for Stricter Regulations Against Spyware Firms

Google, on Tuesday, called out a number of surveillance companies promoting the use of dangerous hacking tools. The internet giant even went on to urge the US and its allies to step up their efforts to put reins on the spyware industry.

Demand from government customers remains strong and our findings underscore the extent to which commercial spyware vendors have proliferated hacking and spyware capabilities that weaken the safety of the Internet for all.Google’s TAG threat-hunting team

Dozens of Smaller Firms Responsible for Proliferating Spyware Technologies, Google Claims

Israel-based spyware firm NSO previously made headlines after its Pegasus spyware was found to be used to spy on high-profile individuals such as journalists and human rights defenders.

Governments were accused of using the espionage tool to snoop on their opposition and critics, consequently bringing NSO into the spotlight.

However, the Google Threat Analysis Group highlighted in its report that while NSO is indeed one of the better-known spyware companies, dozens of smaller firms are responsible for the proliferation of espionage technologies for malicious purposes.

It’s not uncommon for spyware firms to defend themselves by claiming that their products are intended for use by governments to protect national security.

However, there have been recurring instances of their spyware technologies being used to breach devices belonging to political opposition and journalists, such as the Pegasus incident. This has brought the spyware industry under increased scrutiny.

Thanks to Google’s vast range of online offerings, the tech giant enjoys excellent visibility into hacking campaigns around the world. This makes the research findings particularly significant, considering both their implications and the fact that they are based on extensive research by a reliable source.

Google Researchers Publish Roster of Spyware Companies Offering to Break Into Phones

Researchers also included a list of firms in the report that offer various services for hacking mobile phones. These include Greek spyware company Intellexa, Spanish firm Variston, and three Italian firms — Cy4Gate, RCS Labs, and Negg Group.

The said firms have also been making advancements towards bypassing the security features implemented by Apple and Google for their smartphone OS systems iOS and Android respectively.

Among these, Negg Group is a relatively lesser-known firm, with its website stating that the company is focused exclusively on cybersecurity. According to Google’s findings, however, the company’s software has been used to spy on targets in Kazakhstan, Italy, and Malaysia.

Variston, on the other hand, developed software that uses browsers such as Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, and others to infect devices. A similar technique has also been adopted by Protected AE — a spyware company also known as Protect Electronic Systems.

Notably, just a day before Google published the report, the US announced a new Visa restriction policy targeting individuals misusing spyware products.

The policy allows the implementation of several restrictions not only on people with involvement in the abuse of commercial software but on also individuals facilitating such actions and benefitting from them.

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