NSO Group President Defends Controversial Tactics

Firm defends controversial business offerings, claims it should be considered a force of good.

In a rare public appearance by Shiri Dolev, the president of the secretive NSO Group Technologies, the company leader vented over what she called “false myths” about the firm. Dolev also took indirect aim at secure messaging platforms, offered by the likes of Facebook, explaining surveillance companies may soon have to step in where law enforcement companies can’t.

NSO Group is an Israeli technology firm known for its controversial Pegasus spyware, which enables remote surveillance of smartphones. In October, Facebook subsidiary WhatsApp sued NSO Group for creating tools allegedly used by its clients for reading the protected WhatsApp messages of journalists and human rights workers.

Speaking at the tech conference Mind the Tech in Tel Aviv, earlier this week, Dolev said, “Terrorists and criminals use the social platforms and apps we all use every day as a vehicle for terrorism and crime.” She said that key to circumventing the use of end-to-end secure messaging platforms by criminals was to access “critical information which is hidden in secure apps.”

“Unfortunately, protecting privacy for normal people allows criminal and terrorists to hide in the dark. You need to look at a needle in a haystack and do it on time, while maintaining privacy,” Dolev said.

In its battle with the Facebook, workers at the NSO Group filed a lawsuit against the social media behemoth on Tuesday in a Tel Aviv District Court, claiming the company had unfairly blocked their private Facebook and Instagram accounts and those of close family members.

Fighting “False Myths”

“We wish we could respond to what’s being published about us in the media, but we can’t reveal our customers or the things they do,” Dolev said.

In court filing, Facebook accuses the NSO Group of helping government spies break into the phones of roughly 1,400 users and “hacking” the handsets of targets that included diplomats, political dissidents, journalists and senior government officials.

“I wish we could introduce you to the people who work for us because then the gap would be clear,” she said. “If we could tell you about the captured pedophiles, about the prevented terrorist events” then the media discourse about NSO Group would change, she said.

She also claimed that NSO helped authorities locate victims following with the collapse of Tel Aviv parking lot last year and after the Brumadinho dam tragedy in Brazil, in which nearly 250 people died, but “unfortunately you did not see this.”

“There are many negative myths about us,” she said. “We do not operate the technology, we are not a spy company, we do not sell to anybody and we are not exposed to customer intelligence.”

Short on Sympathy

In response to Dolev’s address, Amnesty International Israel took to Twitter stating, “Instead of talking about the topic of the conference, the NSO director utilizes the stage given to her, to rescue NSO’s shocking image.”

Amnesty International is supporting a legal action to take the Israeli Ministry of Defense to court to demand that it revokes the export license of NSO Group.

“We will not read interim calls, but will meet Ms Dolev in court along with the Ministry of Defense,” Amnesty said in a tweet.

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  • Anonymous on

    I would realy like to see some specifics of how they "......helped authorities locate victims following with the collapse of Tel Aviv parking lot last year and after the Brumadinho dam tragedy in Brazil.....". Exactly how did breaking encryption help in that regard? Don't name your customers, but state exactly or in ball park figures, how many pedophiles were arrested, state how many potential terrorist acts were prevented. Couldn't even be bothered to do that, hun? The reputation of NSO gorup is not a "false myth" but well earned. The problem is, they are not just "......captured pedophiles, about the prevented terrorist events....", they are actively breaking into the emails/communications of people who are not pedophiles, terrorists, criminals, or people who would not pose a threat to society. Their people who are using their technology are doing that, and spying on citizens in which they have an in interest, not just "bad elements". They do not reveal their customer base, because it probably does include repressive regimes, and shadowy government bodies that operate on the borderline of the law. However, Dolev, who after all is the CEO of Dolev, is trying to portray NSO group as a force for good. NSO group has the image that it has for a reason, and that it deserves that reputation. Misrepresenting the as a force for good to a conference whose attendees are well aware of what NSO group is about isn't going to change that.
  • White Hat on

    And how breaking encryption will also help Brazil win the world cup? Or reduce the snow, during the next el ninio effect? After all, you just made a bunch of "demands" unrelated to that company products and then "decided" that murderous criminals will give themselves in, solely based on your response.
  • Anonymous II on

    Kudos to Anonymous! I’m all for protecting this great country and our citizens legally. God protect our Children .Pegasus May be good for true law enforcement but this will be a gateway for illegal spying on innocent citizens men, women and children. for those in the intelligence and law enforcement community can use spying software for their own illegal agenda. It is already happening! Bad people in law enforcement are already using these tools to hack and torment innocent people. For no good reason. I know because I’m a victim. These crimes are difficult to detect because when a complaint is made the perpetrator will delete it from the system before investigated. Example complaint to through ic3 to FBI then goes to local law enforcement where perpetrators work. The complaint is covered up, deleted, or declared not worthy of investigation. Leaving the victim or victims frustrated and vulnerable. Almost the feeling of nothing to lose. There are independent digital forensic companies to hire at $1500 retainer then $250 an hour there after. An average person might not have this cash to front. Then at 3-4hrs a device to analyze this money is gone quick. Again
  • RLTM on

    This is a garland of red herrings. There is no need to "break encryption" when you have local memory and CPU access as you get with a privileged implant/modern shell/RAT.
  • Jeff on

    "Understand, I would take this ring out of a desire to do good." Sound familiar? Sorry, it's not a question of what your intentions are, it's a question of what your abilities are. There's no reason I should trust a group that hides it's activities to have my best interests at heart.

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