Endpoint Security , Government , Industry Specific

US Expands Global Coalition on Commercial Spyware Misuse

White House Announces New Allies in Fight Against Misuse of Commercial Spyware
US Expands Global Coalition on Commercial Spyware Misuse
Six additional countries joined a U.S.-led coalition against the misuse of commercial spyware. (Image: Shutterstock)

The Biden administration is recruiting more countries around the world to join its global coalition of democratic governments cracking down on the misuse of commercial spyware.

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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that Finland, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Poland and South Korea joined an inaugural group of 11 countries working to develop safeguards against the proliferation of advanced surveillance technology. The group met for its first-ever in-person meeting Tuesday at the third Summit for Democracy in Seoul to share best practices "and identify opportunities to most effectively counter the misuse of commercial spyware," the Department of State said.

The group's updated joint statement on efforts to counter the proliferation and misuse of commercial spyware comes amid reports that the administration is continuing to identify new cases of U.S. officials being targeted with spyware. A senior administration official told reporters during a Monday phone call that the administration has been "very focused on understanding the extent to which U.S. personnel and their family members may be targeted by commercial spyware."

The senior administration official declined to comment on recent reports but noted how foreign adversaries that acquire sophisticated surveillance technology "may use it against diplomats and others from the United States or other governments, either to surveil them or also to understand who from their own societies are talking with these diplomats in their country."

The White House previously told reporters in March 2023 that at least 50 U.S. government officials were suspected to have been targeted with commercial spyware. The cases included confirmed victims working in at least 10 countries whose smartphones were hacked to spy on their owners, officials said at the time (see: US Limits Government Use of Advanced Smartphone Spyware).

The joint statement affirms each of the countries' commitments to participating in expansive information sharing programs on commercial spyware proliferation and misuse to help better identify and track such tools. The countries have also agreed to prevent the export of software and technologies to end-users "who are likely to use them for malicious cyber activity."

"The misuse of these tools presents significant and growing risks to our national security, including to the safety and security of our government personnel, information, and information systems," the joint statement reads.

The administration has imposed a series of penalties in recent months aimed at combatting the misuse of commercial spyware. The Department of Treasury announced in early March that it leveled sanctions against five entities associated with the Intellexa Consortium for their role in developing and deploying commercial spyware used to target U.S. government officials, journalists and policy experts. The State Department also recently announced a visa ban on individuals who have profitted off the misuse of commercial spyware.

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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