An Israel-based commercial spyware company whose iPhone hacking technology is allegedly used by governments to compromise the phones of political opponents and reporters is closing.
The news from Israeli media comes after the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab and Microsoft published reports last week on the company, its technology, and alleged victims.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz said QuaDream called its employees in for a pre-termination hearing on Sunday. The company has been undergoing significant downsizing, even losing entire teams to competitors, as Israel continues to curtail the sale of local spyware in wake of U.S. pressure, the article says. CTech says the Microsoft and Citizen Lab reports were “the last nail in its coffin.”
According to CTech, QuaDream hasn’t been fully active “for a while,” and it is believed that there are only two employees left in its offices, whose job it is to look after the computers and other equipment.
QuaDream was founded in Israel but sold to Saudi Arabia, according to Haaretz.
Commercial spyware companies like QuaDream and Israel’s NSO Group have been under fire for several years — especially from Citizen Lab — for selling technology to authoritarian and other governments that don’t respect civil rights.
Last year a Citizen Lab researcher testified before the U.S. Congress on curtailing American agencies’ use of spyware.
Last month, U.S. President Joe Biden issued an Executive Order limiting federal agencies from using commercial spyware unless they have approval from the White House. A day later several countries, including Canada, Australia, Costa Rica, Denmark, France, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, committed to establishing “robust guardrails and procedures” to ensure that any commercial spyware used by their governments is consistent with respect for universal human rights, the rule of law, and civil rights and civil liberties.
In its report, Microsoft said samples it has captured shows QuaDream’s malware (which Microsoft calls KingsPawn) exploits a hole in Apple’s iOS 14 operating system. The malware would be deployed through QuaDream’s Reign platform, which it sells to customers.
In its report, Citizen Lab said through internet scanning it believes those customers are in Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Ghana, Israel, Mexico, Romania, Singapore, United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Uzbekistan.
Citizen Lab has been able to identify at least five victims in North America, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. Victims include journalists, political opposition figures and a worker for a non-governmental organization (NGO).