HLS Sector Burning – Another Israeli Surveillance Company Reaches Breakthrough

HLS Sector Burning – Another Israeli Surveillance Company Reaches Breakthrough

Israeli cyber group

This post is also available in: heעברית (Hebrew)

An Israeli cyber group is paying dividends while guarding secrecy concerning its products. NSO Group developed a software which assists governments and security organizations in surveilling suspects via their smartphone and fully control it. The group evaluated at $1 billion is now paying dividends worth $230 million.

The recipients will be the group’s founders Shalev Hulio and Omri Lavie, each has 11%; the American investment fund Francisco Partners which acquired 70% of the company in 2014; and a few dozens of NSO’s executives, according to calcalist.co.il. During recent months, Francisco Partners has been trying to sell the company according to this value.

According to crunchbase.com, the Israeli cyber group developed a mobile surveillance software and offers a variety of cyber solutions for government usage, including Pegasus – a software used to record conversations and gain access to photos, text messages, and websites viewed from a smartphone.

According to net.nana10, Pegasus is supposed to be sold only to governments and is offered to various security organizations in the world.

The company gained world attention in August 2016, following the exposure of an attempt to take over the smartphone of Ahmed Mansoor, a human rights defender, based in the United Arab Emirates.   

According to citizenlab.org, Mansoor received SMS text messages on his iPhone promising “new secrets” about detainees tortured in UAE jails if he clicked on an included link. Instead of clicking, Mansoor sent the messages to Citizen Lab researchers, which recognized the links as belonging to an exploit infrastructure connected to NSO Group. This technology used for the breaching attempt against Mansoor’s iPhone enables its operators, according to several reports, to remotely control smartphones.

According to citizenlab.com, in that case, NSO exploited three iOS flaws. At the time, NSO refused to confirm that its products were involved.

The ensuing investigation, a collaboration between researchers from Citizen Lab and from Lookout Security, determined that the links led to a chain of zero-day exploits (“zero-days”) that would have remotely jailbroken Mansoor’s stock iPhone 6 and installed sophisticated spyware. Once infected, Mansoor’s phone would have become a digital spy in his pocket, capable of employing his iPhone’s camera and microphone to snoop on activity in the vicinity of the device, recording his WhatsApp and Viber calls, logging messages sent in mobile chat apps, and tracking his movements.  

Apple had to patch the flaws and release an update for iOS following the incident.

NSO Group was founded by Omri Lavie, Salev Hulio and Niv Carmi, who later left the company. It is based in Israel. Hulio and Lavie also own (together with Avi Rosen) the startup Kaymera which develops mobile security solutions. In fact, Kaymera which was founded in 2013 offers security solutions vis a vis malware similar to those developed by NSO.