One of the branch offices of Israeli cyber firm NSO Group in the Arava Desert, southern Israel. (File photo)
One of the branch offices of Israeli cyber firm NSO Group in the Arava Desert, southern Israel. (File photo)

Israeli authorities conduct inspection of NSO Group’s office

The inspection was announced on Wednesday in a tweet in Hebrew by the Israeli defence ministry’s official Twitter account, which said: “Representatives from a number of bodies came to NSO today to examine the publications and allegations raised in its case”
UPDATED ON JUL 29, 2021 03:44 PM IST

Israeli authorities have conducted an inspection of the office of the cyber-security firm NSO group following allegations by an international consortium of journalists about the misuse of its Pegasus spyware around the world.

The inspection was announced on Wednesday in a tweet in Hebrew by the Israeli defence ministry’s official Twitter account, which said: “Representatives from a number of bodies came to NSO today to examine the publications and allegations raised in its case.”

The defence ministry didn’t identify the bodies that visited the NSO Group office or give more details. Israeli news website Calcalist, which first reported the inspection, described it as a “raid”. Reports said officials inspected the firm’s office at Herzliya near Tel Aviv.

NSO Group confirmed the inspection in a statement sent to the media. “We can confirm that representatives from the Israeli Ministry of Defense visited our offices. We welcome their inspection,” it said.

The firm, which has already denied the allegations of unauthorised surveillance of mobile phones using its spyware, said it is “working in full transparency with the Israeli authorities.” It added, “We are confident that this inspection will prove the facts are as declared repeatedly by the company against the false allegations made against us in the recent media attacks.”

Also Read | Why I went to the SC on Pegasus: MP John Brittas

The international media consortium last week began publishing reports based on what is believed to be a leaked list of 50,000 phone numbers worldwide that were targeted by NSO’s customers for surveillance. Evidence of the Pegasus spyware was found on 37 phones that were examined by forensic experts, including in India.

Journalists, businesspeople, critics of the government and politicians were among those allegedly targeted in India. NSO says its software is sold only to government customers after vetting by Israeli authorities. The Indian government has denied all wrongdoing and has also not confirmed or denied acquiring the Pegasus spyware.

The report by Calcalist said the possibility of the inspection by authorities leading to “substantial sanctions on NSO is slim”. It added that the defence ministry and NSO have “complementary interests”, and authorities have in the past used their “power to protect the company from criticism and lawsuits”.

Calcalist also reported that the inspection was coordinated with NSO and didn’t include an audit or examination of the firm’s computer systems or documents.

NSO Group has faced increasing pressure from the world community, especially after the international consortium of journalists’ reports revealed that among the phones targeted for surveillance were those of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and French President Emmanuel Macron. The French leader has sought an investigation.

Israeli defence minister Benny Gantz is set to meet his French counterpart Florence Parly to brief her on the findings of a government assessment of NSO’s exports. A statement from Gantz’s office said: ““He will also update the minister on the topic of NSO.”

Gantz’s ministry, which oversees commercial exports of cyber-surveillance technologies, is part of a high-level task force assessing allegations about Pegasus.

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