Israeli authorities have opened an investigation into the secretive Israeli NGO Group security firm.
Authorities from multiple agencies of the Israeli Govt. visited the NSO Group offices as part of a new investigation into claims that the firm is selling its spyware to threat players for targeted attacks, states the Israeli Ministry of Defence.
A single tweet from the ministry confirmed the raid on Wed. but did not reveal exactly which agencies participated. Israeli officials visited NSO Group’s offices in Herzliya, north of Tel Aviv, according to a post by analyst firm Recorded Future’s The Record.
“Representatives from the number of bodies came today to NSO to examine the publications & claims raised in the matter,” the ministry tweeted in Hebrew.
NSO Group is working “in full transparency” with authorities, the firm told The Record.
“We are confident that this inspection will prove the facts are as declared repeatedly by the company against the false allegations made against us in the recent media attacks,” the company stated, according to the post.
However, security experts & industry watchers aren’t as sure of the company’s claim of innocence in this.
“NSO insists that the report is wrong, but also that it’s fine to spy on people, & also that terrorists will murder us all if they aren’t allowed to reap vast fortunes by helping the world’s most brutal dictators figure out whom to kidnap, imprison & murder,” tweeted Cory Doctorow, an author, journalist & activist.
“As I say, all of this is rather ordinary. The NSO Group’s bloody hands, immoral practices & vicious retaliation against critics are well established,” he added in a separate tweet.
According to Israeli news outlet Calcalist, the Israeli Govt’s actions are the start of an attempt to get to the bottom of a report called the Pegasus Project that examined leaked data from the NSO Group & started an international incident that’s rapidly escalating.
The report in the Guardian newspaper revealed a cache of more than 50,000 mobile phone numbers worldwide that the firm was storing, & alleged that Pegasus malware is being used to target activists, journalists, business executives & politicians on a widespread level, using a variety of exploits — including a zero-click zero-day in Apple’s iOS.
17 media organisations participated in the investigative effort, which also accused NSO Group of selling Pegasus to unidentified 3rd-parties, including govts. These entities then use it to infect the phones of dissidents & other people who may be critical of a given regime.
The malware can secretly take remote control of the phone to monitor activity, enabling “customers” to even read encrypted messages of their targets sent via Signal & Telegram.
The report triggered a global response against NSO’s alleged activities, with human rights organisation Amnesty International calling “the vast scale of violations perpetrated through secretive cyber surveillance” “a global human rights crisis.”
Security experts also weighed in, with one – Paul Bischoff, a privacy advocate at Comparitech — calling NSO an “weapons dealer.” Others, nothing how Pegasus has been exploiting an iOS zero-day flaw, took aim at Apple for its proprietary security ecosystem.
While many criticised NSO Group for its activities, some see the report & subsequent investigation as an effort to damage the reputation of the Israeli cyber industry at a time when Israel has come under criticism internationally for recent military actions.
“They are trying to hurt the Israeli cyber industry reputation, & NSO won’t be their f1st neither their last,” tweeted @IntelMA, a user who claims to be part of the North & West Africa military intelligence. “They have an agenda, & it’s clear.”