NSO Group CEO steps down, 100 employees let go too

Controversial Pegasus spyware maker to focus on NATO sales while battling various court cases


Pegasus spyware slinger NSO Group announced on Sunday it will reorganize, replacing its CEO and letting go of around 100 workers.

CEO and co-founder Shalev Hulio's departure took place with immediate effect. Chief operating officer Yaron Shohat has stepped in to act as interim CEO until the board names a replacement.

A statement from NSO Group reportedly said the reorg, which reduces the size of the company by around 15 percent, "will examine all aspects of its business, including streamlining its operations to ensure NSO remains one of the world's leading hi-tech cyber intelligence companies, focusing on NATO-member countries."

"Today is a sad day in NSO Group. After a difficult period with a lot of obstacles and challenges, the company is forced to part with over a hundred employees," wrote a company financial planning and analysis team leader on LinkedIn.

Hulio will reportedly use his new and abundant free time to shop for a buyer for the company and attempt to convince the US Department of Commerce to remove NSO Group from its blacklist.

The co-founder and CEO has left and returned to his post before. In October 2021, Isaac Benbenisti stepped in as CEO, where he lasted around two weeks. His departure coincided with the controversial Israeli tech firm's addition to the US's entity list.

The US Department of Commerce added the Pegasus-maker to the list "based on evidence that these entities developed and supplied spyware to foreign governments that used these tools to maliciously target government officials, journalists, businesspeople, activists, academics, and embassy workers."

The department added the tools provided by the company enabled foreign governments in "transnational repression" – the targeting of foreign dissidents, journalists and activists in efforts to silence dissent. Inclusion on the entity list means the company can't export hardware or software to the US, although US companies can technically still do business with it, against the recommendation of the government.

NSO has always claimed its wares – which make smartphones an open book – were only sold to government agencies known to be investigating matters pertaining to national security or serious crimes. But accounts of its products being used far more widely emerged in July 2021 when a consortium of 17 media organizations published investigations on the targeted use of the software against heads of state, academics, diplomats, human rights advocates and media figures. The reports included the claim that NSO products were used to target Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi days before he was murdered.

NSO Group stands by its assertion that its software is only sold to government agencies for use against criminals and terrorists.

The company faces many ongoing battles. Apple filed a lawsuit last November, and the company's faced either legal action or public criticism from Meta, Alphabet, Cisco and Microsoft. In February, NSO Group was accused of attempted bribery as it tried to access US phone networks. The company responded that its offer to provide "bags of cash" was only a misunderstood joke.

Last Friday, the UK High Court ruled that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia does not have immunity and therefore a case may be heard regarding the country's use of spyware against human rights activist Ghanem Al-Masarir.

The lawsuit could open the door to more lawsuits from hacking victims in the UK – a scenario that may make NSO Group's product even less attractive. ®


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