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Pegasus Scandal

Chief of Israeli spyware firm NSO Group quits job

Published : Jan 26, 2022 14:14 IST T+T-
NSO Group was blacklisted by the U.S. Department of Commerce over its Pegasus software.

NSO Group was blacklisted by the U.S. Department of Commerce over its Pegasus software.

The NSO Group has been plagued by reports of its Pegasus software spying on journalists, activists and politicians.

The chairman of Israeli spyware company NSO Group, Asher Levy, confirmed on January 25 that he had left the company at the end of 2021. He denied that his departure had any connection to current lawsuits and media coverage of the company's Pegasus hacking software. Levy had been NSO chairman since April 2020. He came on as an appointee of U.K.-based private equity firm Novalpina Capital, which had bought NSO in 2019.

Finbarr O'Connor will now head the company. He is current managing director of BRG Asset Management, which took over management of Novalpina in July of last year and subsequently NSO. Upon his departure, Levy said he remained "full of appreciation to NSO, the lifesaving technology it develops ... and the unprecedented ethical policies the company has adopted."

NSO has faced global scrutiny over its Pegasus software, which can easily infiltrate mobile phones and allow its operators to gain access to the device's contents and location history. Investigations into the software and media reports confirmed that Mexican and Saudi journalists, British attorneys, Palestinian human rights activists and Uganda-based U.S. diplomats, had all been targeted using the Pegasus. "I can understand why people are making the connection,'' Levy told AP . "In reality it has nothing to do with the breaking news, so to speak, around NSO."

Mounting lawsuits

Pressure on the company has increased since the end of 2021. NSO has been blacklisted by the US Commerce Department since November 2021, saying that the firm sold spyware to foreign governments which then used the equipment to target government officials, journalists and others. NSO has additionally faced either legal action or criticism from Microsoft Corp., Facebook parent Meta Platforms Inc., Google parent Alphabet Inc. and Cisco Systems Inc. Tech giant Apple has also sued NSO, saying it had violated U.S. laws by breaking into the software installed on iPhones.

Last week, the Israeli attorney general ordered an investigation into domestic police surveillance following reports that Pegasus had been used improperly. The company and the Israeli government say NSO products are only sold to trusted international governments for legitimate security purposes such as monitoring suspected terrorists.

jcg/msh (AP, AFP, Reuters)