The FBI is investigating the role of Israeli spyware vendor NSO Group Technologies in possible hacks on American residents and companies as well as suspected intelligence gathering on governments, according to four people familiar with the inquiry.
The probe was underway by 2017 when the Federal Bureau of Investigation officials were trying to learn whether NSO obtained from American hackers any of the code it needed to infect smartphones, said one person interviewed by the FBI then and again last year.
NSO said it sells its spy software and technical support exclusively to governments and that those tools are to be used in pursuing suspected terrorists and other criminals. NSO has long maintained that its products cannot target U.S. phone numbers, though some cybersecurity experts have disputed that.
The FBI conducted more interviews with technology industry experts after Facebook filed a lawsuit in October accusing NSO itself of exploiting a flaw in Facebook’s WhatsApp messaging service to hack 1,400 users, according to two people who spoke with agents or Justice Department officials.
NSO said it was not aware of any inquiry.
“We have not been contacted by any U.S. law enforcement at all about any such matters,” NSO said in a statement provided by Mercury Public Affairs strategy firm. NSO did not answer additional questions about its employee's conduct but previously said government customers are the ones who do the hacking.
A spokeswoman for the FBI said the agency “adheres to DOJ’s policy of neither confirming nor denying the existence of any investigation, so we wouldn’t be able to provide any further comment.”
Reuters could not determine which suspected hacking targets are the top concerns for investigators or what phase the probe is in. But the company is a focus, and a key issue is how involved it has been in specific hacks, the sources said.
Part of the FBI probe has been aimed at understanding NSO’s business operations and the technical assistance it offers customers, according to two sources familiar with the inquiry.