The bad news continues for Israeli surveillance specialist NSO Group, after local media reports say that its CEO-designate has quit.

The Guardian newspaper, citing Israeli media on Thursday, reported that Isaac (Itzik) Benbenisti, an NSO co-president, has resigned.

It was in October when it was announced that Isaac Benbenisti, the current co-president, would be appointed to the role of the CEO of NSO, reporting to its Board of Directors. He had yet to take up the CEO role however.

US blacklisting

“I am honored and excited to join and lead such a unique company,” said Benbenisti at the time. “Since I joined NSO Group I got to know its cutting-edge technologies, innovative products, unique culture and talented people.”

“I learned firsthand from our customers about their deep appreciation for NSO Group and of the enormous value that are our technologies bring to their mission of protecting innocent lives and keeping the safety of their citizens by allowing them to investigate and prevent terror and major crime,” he stated in October.

“I am impressed with the high moral standards, ethical framework and compliance policies that streamlines throughout everything NSO Group does, and especially the willingness to continue improving at all fronts,” he concluded back then. “I am confident we will continue to do so moving forward.”

But a few weeks later and much seems to have changed, with the Guardian reporting that Benbenisti has resigned.

He cited the company’s blacklisting by the US Department of Commerce last week.

NSO Group reportedly declined to comment.

And this is not the only piece of bad news for NSO.

Earlier this week Facebook was granted permission to pursue a lawsuit against it, after a US court rejected NSO’s claim of immunity

Pegasus spyware

Being placed on the Entity List, means that exports to NSO Group from US companies are now restricted.

The US took the decision because of the furore surrounding NSO’s Pegasus spyware.

In December 2020 a report by Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto alleged that dozens of Al Jazeera journalists had been hacked with the help of Pegasus, by exploiting a vulnerability in the iPhone operating system.

But things really kicked up a gear in July this year, when the Pegasus Project (a collaboration of more than 80 journalists and media organisations) alleged that NSO’s Pegasus had been used “to facilitate human rights violations around the world on a massive scale.”

It allegedly uncovered evidence that revealed that the phone numbers for 14 heads of state, including French President Emmanuel Macron, Pakistan’s Imran Khan and South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa, as well as 600 government officials and politicians from 34 countries, had appeared in a leaked database at the heart of the investigative project.

In September the investigative website Mediapart alleged that traces of Pegasus spyware had even been found on the mobile phones of at least five current French cabinet ministers, deepening the diplomatic fallout.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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