Facebook Ordered To Unlock NSO Staffer Account

Israeli surveillance firm NSO Group has score a legal victory against Facebook after an Israeli court ordered the later to unblock an account belonging to a NSO employee.

In November 2019, employees at NSO had sued Facebook in a lawsuit filed in the Tel Aviv District Court. The lawsuit alleged that Facebook had unfairly blocked the private social networking accounts of NSO staff.

That came after Facebook-owned WhatsApp had sued NSO in late October, alleging it was behind the cyberattack earlier this year that infected devices with advanced surveillance tools.

Account blocking

In May 2019, WhatsApp had urged all of its 1.5 billion users to update their software to fix a vulnerability that it said was being actively exploited to implant advanced surveillance tools on users’ devices.

The Facebook-owned company had discovered the vulnerability earlier in May and released a fix. The bug was used to implant spyware developed by NSO, according to the Financial Times which cited an unnamed surveillance software maker as its source.

NSO employees then alleged that their Facebook and Instagram accounts and also those of former workers and family members had been blocked.

They petitioned the Tel Aviv District Court to order Facebook to unblock the accounts, which they claim was done abruptly and without notice.

And now according to Reuters, Facebook has to unblock the private account of a single worker at NSO. Similar rulings are expected for other employees in the coming days, an NSO spokeswoman reprtedly said on Tuesday.

Ruling on their complaint, Tel Aviv District Court ordered the account of one employee to be restored by Wednesday afternoon.

“We are certain that following the court’s unequivocal statements, Facebook will reverse the action it took against other employees,” the NSO spokeswoman was quoted by Reuters as saying.

“NSO Group has conducted cyber attacks against human rights activists, journalists, and diplomats,” Facebook reportedly said in a statement. “We will continue to take appropriate action to defend our users and we look forward to participating in open court to document how NSO threatens the safety and security of users and needs to be held accountable.”

NSO denial

NSO has denied it was behind the WhatsApp compromise, and said it would fight the allegations.

NSO Group is in the business of developing surveillance tools that are intended for use by governments and law enforcement agencies.

Last month it was alleged that the owner of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, had his phone hacked by officials from Saudi Arabia.

It has been speculated that Bezos’ phone had been compromised by hackers exploiting the WhatsApp flaw last year.

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Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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