US Imposes Sanctions on Greek Spyware Vendor for Targeting Government Officials

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The US government has taken a significant step by announcing a "first-of-its-kind" sanctions package against Intellexa, a Greece-based spyware vendor, and its leadership. The move comes after the company was found to have targeted US government officials.

The Treasury Department has specifically targeted two individuals and five entities associated with the Intellexa Consortium for their involvement in "developing, operating, and distributing commercial spyware technology." According to the US government, this technology was used against journalists, dissidents, policy experts, and even US officials.

As a result, the sanctions effectively freeze any US assets belonging to the targeted individuals and entities and generally prohibit Americans from engaging in any transactions with them. Those who violate these restrictions may also face their own set of sanctions.

It is worth noting that Intellexa had already faced trade restrictions imposed by the Commerce Department back in July 2023.

This announcement marks the first time the US government has imposed sanctions on a commercial spyware entity.

Intellexa is a well-known cyber intelligence company that has garnered media attention in recent years. Their software platform, known as Predator, enables mobile phone and internet surveillance and has allegedly been found on the devices of victims in the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and the United States.

In addition to its individual operations, Intellexa also owns, invests in, and partners with other spyware firms under a consortium model, according to analysts.

Treasury Department officials have described the capabilities of the Predator spyware, stating that once a device is infected, it can be used for various surveillance and information-stealing purposes. These include unauthorized data extraction, geolocation tracking, and accessing personal information and applications on the compromised device.

Tal Dillian, the founder of Intellexa and one of the individuals targeted by the sanctions, has yet to respond to the announcement.

Dillian, a former Israeli government intelligence officer, initially launched the company in Israel but later moved its operations to Cyprus and Greece, where export control laws on surveillance technologies are less stringent.

There have been accusations that Intellexa provided services to the Egyptian government and Vietnam in recent years, according to security researchers and press reports.

In 2023, investigative news outlets reported that the Vietnamese government attempted to implant spyware on the phones of members of Congress using Intellexa's tools. This occurred at the same time as US and Vietnamese diplomats were negotiating a cooperation agreement to counter Chinese influence in Southeast Asia, as reported by the Washington Post.

After years of calls for action by civil society groups during various presidential administrations, Biden's National Security Council has taken the lead in regulating commercial hacking tools. An Executive Order was established in 2023 in an effort to introduce new controls.

Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson emphasized the US's commitment to establishing clear guidelines for responsible development and use of such technologies, while also safeguarding human rights and civil liberties worldwide.


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