Cyberwarfare / Nation-State Attacks , Fraud Management & Cybercrime , Standards, Regulations & Compliance

US Announces First-Ever Sanctions Against Commercial Spyware

Treasury Department Hits Global Commercial Spyware Company With Sweeping Sanctions
US Announces First-Ever Sanctions Against Commercial Spyware
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The Treasury Department announced its first-ever set of sanctions against a commercial spyware entity Tuesday after technology developed by the Greece-based Intellexa Consortium was used to target U.S. government officials, journalists and policy experts.

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The announcement says Intellexa, a commercial spyware company that spearheaded the development of a package of tools called Predator, "has enabled the proliferation of commercial spyware and surveillance technologies around the world, including to authoritarian regimes." Hackers, foreign adversaries and cybercriminals can use the highly invasive Predator spyware to target mobile platforms, including iOS and Android, and gain unauthorized access to sensitive information on those devices.

"The proliferation of commercial spyware poses distinct and growing security risks to the United States and has been misused by foreign actors to enable human rights abuses and the targeting of dissidents around the world for repression and reprisal," the announcement says.

The sanctions target two individuals and five entities involved in developing the Predator spyware package, including Intellexa founder Tal Dilian, a former Israeli intelligence officer and long-standing spyware operative. Sara Hamou, a corporate off-shoring specialist who provided managerial services to Intellexa, also was included in the sanctions.

Hamou held a leadership role in several entities associated with Intellexa that were included in the set of sanctions, according to Intellexa, such as Intellexa's Greece-based software development company, Intellexa S.A.; Ireland-based Intellexa Limited; and Thalestris Limited, which holds the distribution rights to the Predator spyware.

"Today's actions represent a tangible step forward in discouraging the misuse of commercial surveillance tools, which increasingly present a security risk to the United States and our citizens," Undersecretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson said in a statement.

The sanctions effectively freeze all U.S. assets and prevent any American from conducting business with Dilian, Hamou, Intellexa or its associated entities. Treasury said that any financial institutions or U.S. citizens who engage in transactions with the sanctioned entities and individuals could expose themselves to sanctions or enforcement action.

The federal government restricted Intellexa from procuring U.S. goods or services in 2023. The company was added to the U.S. Department of Commerce's Bureau of Industry and Security's Entity Lists and accused of "trafficking in cyber exploits used to gain access to information systems, threatening the privacy and security of individuals and organizations worldwide" (see: Biden Administration Blacklists 2 Commercial Spyware Firms).

An Amnesty International report published later that year accused the Vietnamese government of attempting to use the Predator product to spy on members of the U.S. Congress and European officials (see: Vietnam Accused of Using Predator to Spy on EU, US Lawmakers).

About the Author

Chris Riotta

Chris Riotta

Managing Editor, GovInfoSecurity

Riotta is a journalist based in Washington, D.C. He earned his master's degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, where he served as 2021 class president. His reporting has appeared in NBC News, Nextgov/FCW, Newsweek Magazine, The Independent and more.

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