Commercial Spyware Misuse

The U.S. Department of State on Monday said it's taking steps to impose visa restrictions on 13 individuals who are allegedly involved in the development and sale of commercial spyware or who are immediately family members of those involved in such businesses.

"These individuals have facilitated or derived financial benefit from the misuse of this technology, which has targeted journalists, academics, human rights defenders, dissidents and other perceived critics, and U.S. Government personnel," the department said.


The names of those subjected to visa restrictions were not disclosed, but the move comes more than two months after the U.S. government said it's enacting a new policy that enforces visa constraints on people engaging in practices that could threaten privacy and freedom of expression.

It also aims to counter the misuse and proliferation of commercial spyware that has been put to use by authoritarian governments to spy on civil society members, in addition to promoting accountability.

The development comes as Israeli publication Haaretz reported that Intellexa presented a proof-of-concept (PoC) system in 2022 called Aladdin that made it possible to plant mobile spyware on Android and iOS through online ads.

The Intellexa Consortium was sanctioned by the U.S. Department of Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) last month for developing, operating, and distributing" commercial spyware designed to target government officials, journalists, and policy experts in the country.


It's not just spyware, as Kaspersky recently reported that 31,031 unique users were affected by stalkerware in 2023, up from 29,312 a year prior, with most of them located in Russia, Brazil, and India – a dubious distinction held by the three countries since 2019.

"Stalkerware products are typically marketed as legitimate anti-theft or parental control apps for smartphones, tablets and computers, but in reality, they are something very different. Installed without the knowledge or consent of the person being tracked, these apps operate stealthily and provide a perpetrator with the means to gain control over a victim's life," the company said.

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