Google criticizes spyware manufacturers and contends for stricter regulation

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Google faces a fine of 250 million euros from the French Competition Authority
Google faces a fine of 250 million euros from the French Competition Authority

Google slammed several surveillance software companies for permitting the use of dangerous hacking tools and encouraging the United States to do more to control the spyware industry.

Google (GOOGL.O) opened a new tab on Tuesday, criticizing a number of surveillance software companies for allowing the use of dangerous hacking tools and urging the US and its allies to do more to reign in the spyware sector.

Spyware companies frequently claim that their wares are intended for use by governments to ensure national security. However, the technique has been regularly discovered to have been used to hack into the phones of civil society, political opposition, and journalists during the last decade. The sector has come under growing criticism since Israeli firm NSO’s Pegasus spyware was discovered on the phones of numerous people around the world, including human rights campaigners.

In a report released on Tuesday, Google researchers stated that while NSO is better known, there are many smaller firms helping with the proliferation of spy technology for malicious purposes.

The results of Alphabet Inc.’s (GOOGL.O) new tab on Google are notable since the business has some of the best visibility into hacking activities globally, given the breadth of its internet offerings.

“Demand from government customers remains strong, and our findings highlight the extent to which commercial spyware vendors have proliferated hacking and spyware capabilities that jeopardize Internet safety for all,” researchers from Google’s TAG threat-hunting team wrote in the paper.

“The private sector is now responsible for a significant portion of the most sophisticated tools we detect.”

After at least 50 US federal employees in ten countries were discovered to have been targeted by spyware, Google researchers named a list of companies that provide a variety of services for breaking into phones and have evolved to circumvent the current security measures implemented by Apple (AAPL.O), opened a new tab, and Google for their phone operating systems, iOS and Android.

Cy4Gate and RCS Labs are Italian enterprises; Intellexa is Greek; Negg Group is a lesser-known Italian corporation; and Variston is from Spain.

Negg Group’s website states that the company focuses on cybersecurity, but Google claims that its software was used to spy on people in Italy, Malaysia, and Kazakhstan.

Variston created software that infected users’ devices via Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, or iOS apps, according to Google. Another company, Protected AE, also known as Protect Electronic Systems, used a similar targeting strategy.

The five companies either did not respond to requests for comment or could not be reached.

The Google report comes a day after the United States announced a new visa restriction policy for those it claims are misusing commercial spyware, allowing restrictions to be placed on individuals suspected of being involved in the abuse of commercial spyware, as well as those who facilitate and benefit from such actions.

“Restricting spyware suppliers’ ability to operate in the United States helps to modify the incentive structure that has permitted them continued growth,” Google said in a statement.

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