Israel spyware firm NSO operates in shadowy cyber world

Amnesty International says will petition Tel Aviv district court against continued Israeli government export approval for NSO software.
Tuesday 14/05/2019
A file photo shows an Israeli woman using her iPhone in front of the building housing the Israeli NSO group in Herzliya, near Tel Aviv. (AFP)
A file photo shows an Israeli woman using her iPhone in front of the building housing the Israeli NSO group in Herzliya, near Tel Aviv. (AFP)

JERUSALEM – An Israeli spyware company named in a Financial Times report on a WhatsApp security flaw prides itself on “rigorous, ethical standards” despite previous links to alleged espionage. Founded in 2010 by Israelis Shalev Hulio and Omri Lavie, NSO is based in the Israeli seaside hi-tech hub of Herzliya, near Tel Aviv.

It produces Pegasus, a highly invasive tool that can reportedly switch on a target’s cell phone camera and microphone, and access data on it, effectively turning the phone into a pocket spy.

In Mexico, where investigative journalist Javier Valdez was shot dead on the street in broad daylight in 2017, prominent journalists and activists say the government of former president Enrique Pena Nieto targeted them using Pegasus.

The New York Times reported at the time that at least three Mexican federal agencies had purchased some $80 million of spyware from NSO Group since 2011.

In one case, international experts investigating the disappearance of 43 students in Mexico in 2014 were targeted with the spyware after it had been sold to the government, the experts said.

The software has been pinpointed by independent experts as likely being used in a number of countries with poor human rights records.

NSO’s website says the company has “a pioneering approach to applying rigorous, ethical standards to everything we do”.

It says it has a vetting process on sales which combines licensing by Israeli export-control authorities with an internal review by a business ethics committee.

The firm said Tuesday that it only licenses its software to governments for “fighting crime and terror”.

UK-based rights group Amnesty International, however, said its members and supporters in Israel would on Wednesday petition the Tel Aviv district court against continued government export approval for NSO software.

(AFP)