CEO of Blacklisted Israeli Spyware Maker NSO Steps Down

  • The CEO of NSO Group, the Israeli company behind the Pegasus spyware, will step down as part of a restructuring plan that will also cut 100 jobs.

    The resignation of CEO Shalev Hulio will see COO Yaron Shohat take the helm and manage the company’s reorganization.

    NSO Group made the announcement on Sunday, also saying it is entering its “next phase of growth,” which will now focus sales on countries belonging to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alliance.

    “[The reorganization] will examine all aspects of its business, including streamlining its operations to ensure NSO remains one of the world’s leading high-tech cyber intelligence companies, focusing on NATO-member countries,” said an NSO Group’s spokesperson.

    The company is mainly known for an investigation in July 2021 that revealed its Pegasus spyware was sold to governments worldwide and used against human rights activists, reporters and other groups.

    Crucially, while NSO is privately owned, the Ministry of Defense in Israel must preapprove any export of cyberwarfare technologies, leading privacy activists and political commentators alike to say Israel’s political interests influenced Pegasus sales to governments with records of human rights abuses.

    Although NSO always denied any wrongdoing in licensing its technologies, the company was added to a US export blacklist last year to prevent it from buying components from American companies.

    For context, Hulio’s dimissions come almost a year after his predecessor, Isaac Benbenisti, forfeited his role following the company’s addition to the United States Department of Commerce blacklist.

    More recently, the Pegasus spyware was spotted targeting the European Justice Commissioner in April this year and months later used in an espionage campaign targeting a pro-democracy movement in Thailand.

    Furthermore, the Pegasus spyware was found on the Spanish PM’s smartphone in May. In the same month, the country’s government sacked its spy chief, Paz Esteban, amid a dual phone-hacking scandal involving the NSO Group-created spyware.