Israeli authorities investigate the activities of NSO Group

The Israeli Defense Ministry reports that officials from several government agencies have investigated the activities and came with checks to the offices of the NSO Group, which develops legal spyware and recently found itself at the center of another scandal. The authorities write that they want to investigate the charges against the company themselves.

The fact is that earlier this month, the human rights organization Amnesty International, the non-profit project Forbidden Stories, as well as more than 80 journalists from a consortium of 17 media organizations in 10 countries around the world published the results of a joint investigation, which was named Project Pegasus. Reporters wrote that they discovered widespread abuse of spyware created by NSO Group, Pegasus.

According to the report, the company’s spyware is actively used to violate human rights and monitor politicians, activists, journalists and human rights defenders around the world.

It is interesting that there was nothing fundamentally new in this report, and hardly anyone in the information security community was surprised by the existence of Pegasus and what the journalists wrote about. As Markus Hutchins (MalwareTech) notes on Twitter:

This story did not seem to me to be something new until today, when I realized that it was probably not known about it outside the cybersecurity community before. So TL; DR: There is a group of companies that have 0-days and spyware that can hack phones remotely.

These are usually sold to governments, who then use [these tools] to attack “terrorists” (which in many cases simply means anyone the authorities consider a threat). The vague definition of the term “terrorist” varies from state to state, and many (especially authoritarian states) view activists and journalists as threats. The reality is that “stopping the terrorists” easily turns into “spying on everyone we don’t like,” and that’s what this leak is about.

While many media outlets call what is happening now “raids”, the representatives of the NSO Group themselves describe it as “visits.” The company has already issued an official press release, which states:

We can confirm that representatives of the Israeli Ministry of Defense have visited our offices. We welcome this inspection and are confident that the verification will only prove the facts that the company has repeatedly cited, despite the false accusations against us in recent media attacks.said clinic representatives

Israeli news agency Calcalist cites an anonymous source as saying the “raids” were more of a formal meeting rather than an in-depth verification of NSO Group’s documents and computer systems.

It is worth noting that companies that develop and sell spyware and other offensive software must register with government agencies and obtain a special export license to sell their software. NSO Group is currently licensed by the Government of Israel. In 2019, human rights defenders already filed a lawsuit trying to force the Israeli government to revoke the NSO Group’s license (claiming that the company’s software was used to violate human rights), but in July 2020, an Israeli court dismissed the lawsuit.

Let me remind you that we talked about the fact that Facebook sues NSO Group spyware maker due to exploitation of WhatsApp vulnerability and then Facebook has blocked the accounts of NSO Group employees.

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Daniel Zimmermann

Daniel Zimmermann has been writing on security and malware subjects for many years and has been working in the security industry for over 10 years. Daniel was educated at the Saarland University in Saarbrücken, Germany and currently lives in New York.

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