China has dismissed US moves to control spyware and accused Washington of seeking to maintain “hegemony in cyberspace” under the false pretext of “national security.”
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said the recent White House order to crack down on certain surveillance tech would not change the fact that Washington is the “biggest threat to global cybersecurity.” US agencies have targeted foreign states and companies “under the pretexts of national security and human rights without any evidence,” Ning claimed.
“The US government, in an attempt to maintain its hegemony in cyberspace, knowingly abuses technology for cyber surveillance and theft of secrets,” she told reporters on Friday, urging the US to “stop its global hacking operations.”
While US president Joe Biden’s new executive order called to ban “commercial spyware that poses risks to national security or has been misused by foreign actors,” a reporter at Friday’s press briefing noted the move was at odds with the administration’s previous work with the Israeli cyber surveillance firm NSO Group.
According to a report in the New York Times earlier this week, the US government signed a “secret contract” with the firm through a front company in 2021, which allowed officials to use NSO Group’s ‘Landmark’ geolocation tool to covertly track “thousands” of phone users in Mexico. The deal also “allows for Landmark to be used against mobile numbers in the United States,” though the outlet said it had no evidence that had happened yet.
Despite language in the executive order urging federal agencies to stop employing tools that have been “misused” by governments abroad, the deal with NSO Group “still appears to be active,” the NYT reported.
The Israeli firm has previously come under fire for allegedly working with more than a dozen foreign states to target lawyers, journalists and human rights activists using its powerful ‘Pegasus’ spyware program, including in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Mexico. Other media reports have also claimed the FBI bought the tech under a secret agreement and tested ways to hack into American cell phones, though it remains unclear to what extent the program was deployed against US citizens.