Search
Close this search box.

NSO’s incoming CEO quits following Pegasus maker’s blacklisting

Share:

The executive due to take over as CEO of the Israeli spyware company behind the Pegasus program quits after the business was blacklisted by the US Commerce Department.

Isaac Benbenisti, who joined the company in August, was named on October 31 as the future replacement for CEO Shalev Hulio, an NSO co-founder who was due to take on new roles as vice chairman and global president.

Hulio will stay on as CEO for the time being, and Benbenisti will leave the company.

In July this year we covered Pegasus, a spyware created by an Israeli company — NSO Group — which can infect iPhone and Android devices.

NSO Group claimed at the time that it sells the spyware to only legitimate government entities fighting crime and terrorism.

But international media outlets conducted and released the results of an investigation which seemed to suggest otherwise.

The company was now accused of assisting in the surveillance, spying on and possibly even clandestine and subversive state activities against political opponents, journalists and activists.

Why the CEO of NSO Group is quitting, not even into his tenure

In a resignation letter, Benbenisti wrote to NSO’s chairman Asher Levy that “in light of the special circumstances that have arisen” following the US decision, and not being able to carry out his vision for NSO, he “would not be able to assume the position of CEO with the company”.

Staffed by veterans of top Israeli military intelligence units, NSO has been trying to defend its reputation after an investigation by 17 media organisations published in July said its Pegasus software had targeted smartphones of journalists, rights activists and government officials in several countries.

Last week the US Commerce Department added NSO to its trade blacklist, saying it sold spyware to foreign governments that used the equipment to target government officials, journalists and others.

Being blacklisted by Washington means that exports to NSO from US counterparts are restricted, making it harder for US security researchers to sell them information about computer vulnerabilities.

After he was named as future CEO, Benbenisti, who previously served six-and-a-half years as CEO of telecoms group Partner Communications, had he was “impressed with the high moral standards, ethical framework and compliance policies that streamlines throughout everything NSO Group does.”

The company “will struggle”

NSO, which said it was “dismayed” by the US blacklist decision, reiterated that it has ended contracts with government agencies that misused products it promotes as legitimate tools to help crime-fighting authorities battle terrorism.

The company sends its products abroad under licences from Israel’s Defence Ministry, which launched an investigation of the company’s practices after the alleged software misuse emerged. No results have been announced.

An NSO source said the company was contesting the US decision and had been in touch with clients in Europe.

“We have their support. There have been no changes to the company nor cancellations of contracts at this time,” the source said.

Lev Topor, from the Center for Cyber Law and Policy at the University of Haifa in northern Israel, said NSO’s future could depend on whether other countries follow the US lead.

“It might be they might be blocked in the US but not elsewhere, and the US can of course still hire their services via third parties by proxy,” said Topor.

“If governments worldwide and particularly the Israeli government would make it hard for them to do business, they will struggle.”

Ahmed Khanji

Ahmed Khanji

Ahmed Khanji is the CEO of Gridware, a leading cybersecurity consultancy based in Sydney, Australia. An emerging thought leader in cybersecurity, Ahmed is an Adjunct Professor at Western Sydney University and regularly contributes to cybersecurity conversations in Australia. As well as his extensive background as a security advisor to large Australian Enterprises, he is a regular keynote speaker and guest lecturer on offensive cybersecurity topics and blockchain.

Contact

Sydney Offices
Level 12, Suite 6
189 Kent Street
Sydney NSW 2000
1300 211 235

Melbourne Offices
Level 13, 114 William Street
Melbourne, VIC 3000
1300 211 235

Perth Offices
Level 32, 152 St Georges Terrace
Perth WA 6000
1300 211 235

Emergency Assistance

Under Attack?

Please fill out the form and we will respond ASAP. Alternatively, click the button to call us now.
Company

Learn more about the team at the forefront of the Australian Cyber Security scene.

About Us →

Meet the Team →

Partnerships →

Learn more about the team at the forefront of the Australian Cyber Security scene.

Career Opportunities →

Internships →

Media appearances and contributions by Gridware and our staff.

See More →

Services

Services

Whether you need us to take care of security for you, respond to incidents, or provide consulting advice, we help you stay protected.

View all services →

Web App Pen. Test Calculator →

Network Pen. Test Calculator →

Governance & Audit

Legal and regulatory protection

Penetration Testing

Uncover system vulnerabilities

Remote Working & Phishing

Fortify your defenses

Cyber Security Strategy

Adaptation to evolving threats

Cloud & Infrastructure

Secure cloud computing solutions

Gridware 360

End-to-end security suite

Gridware Managed Services

Comprehensive & proactive security

Gridware CloudControl
360

Harness the benefits of cloud technology

Gridware Incident Response 24/7

Swift, expert-led incident resolution

Solutions
Resources

Resources

A collection of our published insights, whitepapers, customer success stories and more.

Customer success stories from real Gridware customers. Find out how we have helped others stay on top of their Cyber Security.

Read More →