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US Government Advice to Counteract Commercial Spyware

Highlights Abuse of Commercial Software

The National Counterintelligence and Security Center – part of the US’s Office of the Director of National Intelligence – and the State Department have issued a warning via social media of the risks posed to Americans by abuse of commercial spyware, together with advice on how to counteract such products.

The Center has issued a one-page digital document highlighting the risks raised by commercial digital surveillance tools, and suggesting simple methods by which device users can minimise the dangers of having their equipment or communications compromised.

Companies and individuals have been selling commercial surveillance tools to governments and other entities that have used them for malicious purposes,” the document says. Among the list of possible mitigations, the advice suggests regularly updating operating systems, not clicking suspicious links, using encryption, password protection and virtual private networks, and disabling geolocation settings. “While these steps mitigate risks, they don’t eliminate them […] It’s always safest to behave as if the device is compromised, so be mindful of sensitive content.”

In November, the US Department of Commerce added four spyware vendors to the Entity List of the Export Administration Regulation, effectively banning them from legally exporting their technology to the USA. The companies were NSO Group and Candiru of Israel, Russian firm Positive Technologies, and the Singapore-based Computer Security Initiative Consultancy Pte. Companies are added to the Entity List when they are “reasonably believed to be involved, have been involved, or pose a significant risk of being or becoming involved, in activities contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States,” according to a DoC release.

Angus Batey reporting for MON

The advice document released by the NCSC and the State Department. (Image: US NCSC)

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Publish date

01/11/2022

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