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U.S. slams penalties on Greek spyware seller, alleges it targeted U.S. officials

Signage is visible at the United States Department of the Treasury headquarters in Washington, D.C., U.S., August 29, 2020.

WASHINGTON - March 5 (mod1s) - The U.S. government unveiled a "first-of-its-kind" sanctions package on Tuesday morning against Greece-based spyware vendor Intellexa and its leadership after the firm was implicated in targeting U.S. government personnel.
The Treasury Department targeted two individuals and five entities associated with the Intellexa Consortium for their role in "developing, operating and distributing commercial spyware technology," which the U.S. government says was used against journalists, dissidents, policy experts and U.S. officials.

The penalties essentially freeze any U.S. assets of individuals blacklisted and usually restrict Americans from engaging with them. Those who participate in specific transactions with them also risk being slapped with penalties. The corporation had previously been subject to trade restrictions under sanctions implemented by the Commerce Department in July 2023.
The declaration Tuesday signals the first time the government has sanctioned a commercial malware business.
Intellexa is a well-known cyber intelligence company that's received media attention in recent years after their software platform, known as Predator, which enables mobile phone and internet surveillance, was allegedly captured on the devices of victims in the Middle East, Africa, Europe and the United States.
In addition to working as an independent business, Intellexa owns, invests in and also works with other spyware organizations under a consortium model, according to experts.

"Once a device is infected by the Predator spyware, the spyware can be leveraged for a variety of information stealing and surveillance capabilities—this includes the unauthorized extraction of data, geolocation tracking, and access to a variety of applications and personal information on the compromised device," Treasury Department officials described in a statement.
Intellexa's founder, Tal Dillian, who is among individuals targeted by the penalties, did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Dillian, a former Israeli government intelligence officer, established the firm in Israel but then relocated outside, establishing facilities in Cyprus and Greece - where export control rules on monitoring technology are less developed. In recent years, the corporation was accused of supplying the Egyptian government as well as Vietnam, according to security experts and news sources.
In 2023, a consortium of investigative news sites revealed that the Vietnamese government had attempted to install spyware on the phones of members of Congress using Intellexa's technologies. The targeting happened just as U.S. and Vietnamese officials were finalizing a cooperation deal aimed to offset Chinese influence in South East Asia, according to the Washington Post, opens new tab.
After years of appeals for steps by civil society organizations spanning several presidential administration, Biden's National Security Council has been the first to approach the subject of regulating commercial hacking tools, creating an Executive Order in 2023 that tried to institute additional limits.
“The United States remains focused on establishing clear guardrails for the responsible development and use of these technologies while also ensuring the protection of human rights and civil liberties of individuals around the world," said Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson in a statement.

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