Apple announced a lawsuit against Israeli firm NSO Group on Tuesday for alleged "surveillance and targeting" of the company's users.
The company said it is seeking damages and an injunction to block NSO Group from using its products in the future. Apple said the surveillance was limited to a small group of users and that its servers were not hacked.
“The steps we’re taking today will send a clear message: In a free society, it is unacceptable to weaponize powerful state-sponsored spyware against those who seek to make the world a better place,” said Ivan Krstić, head of Apple Security Engineering and Architecture.
The lawsuit was filed in federal court in California.
NSO Group is a cyberintelligence firm based in Israel that provides governments, namely the Israeli government, with spyware to gain intelligence from individuals by digitally surveilling them, according to Forbes .
In early November, the Biden administration blacklisted NSO Group, accusing it of targeting human rights activists and journalists, the New York Times reported . His actions blocked the company from receiving exports of U.S. technologies.
In a statement to the Washington Examiner, NSO Group said its technology has helped save lives worldwide and curb terrorist activities.
“Thousands of lives were saved around the world thanks to NSO Group's technologies used by its customers,” the company said. “Pedophiles and terrorists can freely operate in technological safe-havens, and we provide governments the lawful tools to fight it. NSO Group will continue to advocate for the truth.”
Government officials have criticized Apple in the past for using advanced encryption in some of its software, which makes it very difficult for government intelligence agencies to penetrate it.
Some officials, including members of Congress such as Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton, argued it could be used by individuals seeking to avoid court-ordered searches. The company has argued it is protecting user privacy.
Amnesty International has criticized NSO Group and claims the company has conducted "unlawful surveillance" of individuals.
In a 2018 column for the Washington Post , national security analyst Max Boot accused the company of allowing Saudi Arabia to use its technology to track down and kill Jamal Khashoggi.
NSO Group has rejected many of these claims. It says it is a technology company that builds tools and is not responsible for deploying them.
In its announcement, Apple also committed to giving $10 million as well as money for any damages from its lawsuit to "organizations pursuing cybersurveillance research and advocacy."