Founded in 20018, NSO Group flogs hacking tools to dictators including those in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and across Central Asia—a group of decision-makers whose track record includes numerous examples of human rights abuses and oppression of dissent.
NSO’s tools have been directly involved in the arrest of human rights activists spying on lawyers and journalists.
However CEO of the outfit Shalev Hulio pointed out that some of that spying was done to catch the drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.
“In order to catch El Chapo, for example, they had to intercept a journalist, an actress, and a lawyer,” NSO Group founder Shalev Hulio told 60 minutes. “Now, by themselves, they are not criminals, right? But if they are in touch with a drug lord and to catch them, you need to intercept them, that’s a decision an intelligence agency should get.”
Hulio’s outfit hit the headlines in 2016 when its tools were used by the authoritarian government of the UAE in order to spy on Ahmed Mansoor, an award-winning human rights activist. Mansoor currently sits, untried and unable to regularly contact his family, in an unidentified prison somewhere in the UAE on charges of criticising the UAE government.
It used this as an advert for other authoritarian governments about NSO Group’s exceptional ability to hack into iPhones.
NSO Group’s tools, most famous of which is its Pegasus spyware, have also been used to spy on minors. Hulio pointed out intelligence agencies could have stopped 9/11 by spying on Osama Bin Laden’s teenage son.
“I only say that we are selling Pegasus to prevent crime and terror,” Hulio told the telly.
Hulio claimed his software was responsible for saving tens of thousands of lives. An unnamed Western intelligence official reportedly told CBS that the company is a game changer in the world of intelligence gathering. He would not, however, specifically answer charges of misuse, lack of transparency or abuse by potential customers.
NSO Group is now called Q, a winking reference to the gadget-maker serving James Bond although we would Far Q would be more appropriate.