Last Friday, the National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC) issued a warning to the public, and in particular journalists and political dissidents, of cyber surveillance tools able to infect smartphones with heavy-hitting spyware. The notice explained how malicious actors can gain access to phones and nearly all their content and steps users can take to mitigate risks.
According to The New York Times coverage of the announcement, it is another indication that the Biden administration is concerned about the use of spyware to access government secrets. The article, by Julian E. Barnes, said that the U.S. has been trying to make it harder for surveillance companies to operate in order to “push them out of the business of developing commercial spyware that can be misused.”
The news comes after the current presidential administration took action against Israel-based NSO Group in November, restricting its activities due to its role developing and selling malware. The government accused NSO Group of enabling bad actors to spy on and target government officials, journalists, businesspeople, activists, and academics around the world through the sale of its surveillance technology.
Last week’s warning said that hackers can access phones using sophisticated malware either from WiFi or cellular networks, in some cases with no action taken by the device owner. The NCSC recommended regularly restarting devices, downloading updates, encrypting and password protecting devices, and using trusted virtual private networks, among other things.
The alert cautioned that though users can protect themselves, no solution is completely effective. “It’s always safest to behave as if the device is compromised, so be mindful of sensitive content,” the agency concluded.