Predator spyware vendor banned in US

The US Treasury Department has sanctioned Predator spyware vendor Intellexa Consortium, and banned the company from doing business in the US.

Predator can turn infected smartphones into surveillance devices. Intellexa is based in Greece but the Treasury Department imposed the sanctions because of the use of the spyware against Americans, including US government officials, journalists, and policy experts.

Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson said:

“Today’s actions represent a tangible step forward in discouraging the misuse of commercial surveillance tools, which increasingly present a security risk to the United States and our citizens.”

Since its founding in 2019, the Intellexa Consortium has marketed the Predator label as a suite of tools created by a variety of offensive cybercompanies that enable targeted and mass surveillance campaigns.

Predator is capable of infiltrating a range of electronic devices without any user interaction (known as ‘zero-click’). Once installed, Predator deploys its extensive data-stealing and surveillance capabilities, giving the attacker access to a variety of applications and personal information on the compromised device. The spyware is capable of turning on the user’s microphone and camera, downloading their files without their knowledge, tracking their location, and more.

Under the sanctions, Americans and people who do business with the US are forbidden from transacting with Intellexa, its founder and architect Tal Dilian, employee Sara Hamou and four of the companies affiliated with Intellexa.

Sanctions of this magnitude leveraged against commercial spyware vendors for enabling misuse of their tools are unprecedented, but the US has expressed concerns about commercial spyware vendors before.

“A growing number of foreign governments around the world, moreover, have deployed this technology to facilitate repression and enable human rights abuses, including to intimidate political opponents and curb dissent, limit freedom of expression, and monitor and target activists and journalists.”

In July 2023, the US Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) added Intellexa and Cytrox AD to the Entity List for trafficking in cyber exploits used to gain access to information systems. Cytrox AD is a North Macedonia-based company within the Intellexa Consortium and acts as a developer of the consortium’s Predator spyware.

The Entity List is a trade control list created and maintained by the US government. It identifies foreign individuals, organizations, companies, and government entities that are subject to specific export controls and restrictions due to their involvement in activities that threaten US national security or foreign policy interests.

Earlier this month, a California federal judge ordered spyware maker NSO Group to hand over the code for Pegasus and other spyware products used to spy on WhatsApp users.

While you’ll see Predator and Pegasus usually deployed in small-scale and targeted attacks, putting a stop to the development and deployment of spyware by these commercial entities is good news for everyone.

How to remove spyware

Because spyware apps install under a different name and hide themselves from the user, it can be hard to find and remove them. That is where Malwarebytes for Android can help you.

  1. Open Malwarebytes for Android and navigate to the dashboard
  2. Tap Scan now
  3. It may take a few minutes to scan your device, but it will tell you if it finds spyware or any other nasties.
  4. You can then uninstall the app.

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Cybersecurity risks should never spread beyond a headline. Keep threats off your mobile devices by downloading Malwarebytes for iOS, and Malwarebytes for Android today.