Cyber warfare: Israeli foreign minister distances government from blacklisted NSO Group

Cyber warfare: Israeli foreign minister distances government from blacklisted NSO Group


Jerusalem: Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid on Saturday distanced the government from the NSO Group, a firm blacklisted this week by the United States over alleged misuse of its phone hacking spyware.

A survey of 17 media organizations published in July stated that NSO’s Pegasus software targeted the smartphones of journalists, rights defenders, and government officials in multiple countries.

The company sent its products abroad under the permission of the Israeli Ministry of Defense. After suspected software abuse, the ministry has launched its own investigation into the company’s practices.

No results have been announced and Israel has given no indication so far that it was considering limiting the scope of NSO’s exports.

“NSO is a private company, it is not a governmental project and therefore even if it is designated, it has nothing to do with the policies of the Israeli government,” Lapid told a news conference in Jerusalem. “I don’t think there is another country in the world which has such strict rules according to cyber warfare and that is imposing those rules more than Israel and we will continue to do so.”

His comments are the first made publicly by a senior Israeli minister since the U.S. Commerce Department announced the blacklisting on Wednesday.

In the past, NSO Group has been accused of selling hacking tools to authoritarian regimes. NSO says it only sells its products to law enforcement and intelligence agencies and takes steps to curb abuse.

They are included in the US list for engaging in activities that violate US national security or foreign policy interests, which means that their US counterparts are restricted from exporting to them.

The National Bureau of Statistics expressed its “frustration” with the U.S. decision and terminated its contracts with government agencies that abused its advertised products as a legitimate tool to help counter-criminal authorities fight terrorism.

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