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The United States bans the maker of spyware that targeted a senator's phone

The United States bans the maker of spyware that targeted a senator's phone

The US Treasury Department on Tuesday banned one of the creators of notorious software that can hack smartphones and turn them into surveillance devices, from doing business in the United States.

The sanctions represent the most aggressive action taken by the US government against a spyware company.

Intellexa is developing a program called Predator, which can take over a person's phone and turn it into a surveillance device. Predator and other major spyware have capabilities such as secretly turning on a user's microphone and camera, downloading their files without their knowledge, and tracking their location.

Under the sanctions, Americans and people doing business with the United States are prohibited from doing business with Intellexa, its founder and engineer Tal Dilian, employee Sara Hamou, and four Intellexa subsidiaries.

In a press call to review the sanctions, a White House official, who requested anonymity, said the decision to impose sanctions on Intellexa “goes beyond the measures we have taken.”

“This is the first time the US government has used any sanctions authority against commercial spyware vendors to enable them to misuse their tools,” he said.

that Amnesty International investigation It found that Predator had been used to target journalists, human rights workers and some high-profile political figures, including European Parliament President Roberta Mitsola and Taiwan's outgoing president, Tsai Ing-wen. The report found that the Predator was also used against at least two members of Congress, Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, and Sen. John Hoven, RN.D.

The Predator was also central to A Scandal shakes Greece in 2022 Dozens of politicians and journalists were reportedly targeted with spyware.

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NBC News was unable to reach Intellexa for comment. Its website has been offline since sometime in 2023.

Multiple governments around the world have deployed this technology to facilitate repression and enable human rights abuses, including intimidating political opponents, curbing dissent, limiting freedom of expression, and monitoring and targeting activists and journalists, a Treasury Department press release on the sanctions said. He said.

The sanctions come on the heels of President Joe Biden's 2023 executive order regulating commercial spyware.

Under the order, the Commerce Department previously placed another spyware developer, the Israeli company NSO Group, on the US Entity List, subjecting it to additional regulations. Imposing sanctions on Intellexa represents an escalation, said John Scott-Railton, a senior spyware researcher at the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab.

He added: “The United States' use of Treasury sanctions would come as a surprise to the spyware world.” “Suddenly this had major personal consequences.”

“This is the kind of thing that makes people think about changing fields of work and leaving countries,” he said.

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