Come On, Man: Hackers Seeking Legal Immunity

February 3, 2021

The hacking industry is thriving and there are companies labeled private sector offensive actors (PSOAs) selling cyberweapons enabling their customers to become hackers. PSOAs are nasty bad actor groups and they are trying to gain legal immunity to avoid criminal charges. Microsoft has more details in the story, “Cyber Mercenaries Don’t Deserve Immunity.”

One of these PSOAs trying to gain legal immunity is the NSO Group. The NSO Group sells cyberweapons to governments and the company argues its afforded the same legal immunity as its customers. Microsoft President Brad Smith stated the NSO Group’s business model is dangerous. It would allow other PSOAs to skirt laws and avoid any repercussions from their cyberweapons.

The biggest worry is that PSOAs’ technology could fall into the wrong hands and be used for nefarious deeds. Another worry is that if the NSO Group is granted sovereign immunity their actions will be profit driven rather than for the common good:

“Second, private-sector companies creating these weapons are not subject to the same constraints as governments. Many governments with offensive cyber capabilities are subject to international laws, diplomatic consequences and the need to protect their own citizens and economic interests from the indiscriminate use of these weapons. Additionally, some governments – like the United States – may share high-consequence vulnerabilities they discover with impacted technology providers so the providers can patch the vulnerability and protect their customers. Private actors like the NSO Group are only incented to keep these vulnerabilities to themselves so they can profit from them, and the exploits they create are constantly recycled by governments and cybercriminals once they get into the wild.”

Human rights are another concern, because governments run by bad actors can use the cyberweapons to harm their citizens. Anyone who fights for human rights could be tracked and have their information stolen. This could ultimately lead to their deaths.

The NSO Group and PSOAs must be held to the same standards as other private companies. If their products are used by bad actors with the PSOAs’ knowledge they must be held liable.

Whitney Grace, February 3, 2021


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