The United States imposed penalties on Greek spyware seller, alleging it targeted American officials

The United States imposed penalties on Greek spyware seller, alleging it targeted American officials
The United States imposed penalties on Greek spyware seller, alleging it targeted American officials

Following the discovery that Intellexa, a spyware vendor based in Greece, was targeting US government officials, the US government announced a “first-of-its-kind” penalty package against the company and its leadership.

On Tuesday morning, the US government unveiled a “first-of-its-kind” sanctions package against Intellexa, a spyware provider based in Greece, and its leadership after the company was found to be targeting US government officials.

The Treasury Department targeted two individuals and five entities affiliated with the Intellexa Consortium for their involvement in “developing, operating, and distributing commercial spyware technology,” which the US government claims was used against journalists, dissidents, policy experts, and US officials.

The penalties effectively freeze any targeted individuals’ U.S. assets and prohibit Americans from doing business with them. Those who engage in certain transactions with them risk facing sanctions. The corporation had previously been subject to trade restrictions issued by the Commerce Department in July 2023.

The announcement on Tuesday marks the first time the government has sanctioned a commercial malware organization.

Intellexa is a well-known cyber intelligence company that has received media attention in recent years after their software platform, Predator, which allows for mobile phone and internet surveillance, was allegedly discovered on the devices of victims in the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and the United States.

According to analysts, Intellexa owns, invests in, and partners with other spyware organizations through a consortium model in addition to working as an individual corporation.

“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,” the Treasury Department said.

Tal Dillian, Intellexa’s founder and one of those targeted by the sanctions, did not immediately respond.

Dillian, a former Israeli government intelligence officer, founded the company in Israel but later expanded operations to Cyprus and Greece, where export control restrictions for surveillance technologies are less developed. According to security analysts, the business has been accused of serving both the Egyptian and Vietnamese governments in recent years.

In 2023, a consortium of investigative news outlets revealed that the Vietnamese government attempted to install spyware on the phones of members of Congress using Intellexa’s technologies. According to the Washington Post, the targeting took place as US and Vietnamese diplomats were discussing a cooperation deal to oppose Chinese influence in Southeast Asia.

Following years of appeals for action from civil society groups across numerous presidential administrations, Biden’s National Security Council was the first to address the subject of regulating commercial hacking tools, issuing an Executive Order in 2023 that aimed to impose new 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 individuals’ human rights and civil liberties around the world,” said Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson in a statement.

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