The Israeli firm NSO Group developed the infamous Pegasus spyware, and the White House has issued a warning to American corporations considering an acquisition of the company. A assessment of the acquisition’s potential hazards has been ordered after the Biden administration warned that it could represent a counterintelligence threat to the United States. The National Security Council is worried that governments around the world would have easier access to tools like Pegasus, which would allow them to engage in transnational repression.
In light of rumors that Hollywood financier Robert Simonds is considering a bid to acquire NSO’s assets—including the Pegasus spyware—the White House has issued a warning. The Luxembourg holding company that owns NSO has appointed Simonds, an Oscar-winning producer of Adam Sandler movies, to its board of directors. Sources indicate that he is thinking about measures to ensure that the intelligence partnership known as “Five Eyes,” consisting of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, has exclusive access to NSO’s technologies.
Both the Israeli Ministry of Defense and the United States Department of Defense would likely oppose any attempt to acquire NSO’s assets. After the Biden administration uncovered evidence that NSO was selling tools that allowed international repression, the corporation was placed on the US entity list in 2021. Government officials, reporters, businesses, activists, professors, and embassy staff were all victims of these tools.
Pegasus and other similar programs continue to raise severe counterintelligence and security concerns for the Biden-Harris administration. According to the National Security Council’s spokesperson, any American firm contemplating a deal with a foreign entity on the entity list should be prepared for an investigation into whether or not the acquisition poses a counterintelligence risk to the United States and its systems and information. The assessment would also determine how much access or control a foreign entity or government still has, as well as the potential threats to other US stocks.
Spyware, despite the recent controversy involving NSO and Pegasus, is still a lucrative commodity. Without the owner’s knowledge, Pegasus may hack into and take complete control of any mobile device. Its government customers can listen in on a person’s phone call, view their location in real time, read their emails (even those received via encrypted apps), and take control of the phone’s microphone remotely.
Hollywood investor Robert Simonds is looking at buying NSO’s assets, but he has no reputation in the cybersecurity field. He has formed and presided over STX Entertainment and has a track record of pursuing Chinese and Indian investors and conducting business in Saudi Arabia. Simonds has ignored calls for comment on rumors that he is considering making a bid for NSO’s property.
NSO has defended its business practices by claiming that the government clients it sells its spyware to use it against severe crimes like terrorism. The firm claims it has no say over how its governmental clients use the monitoring technology after it is sold, although it does investigate credible reports of abuse. NSO also emphasizes the importance of its cyber technology to democratic countries, especially those in Western Europe.
First reported on the Guardian