CEO of Blacklisted Spyware Firm Quits

The newly appointed chief executive officer of Pegasus spyware maker NSO Group has relinquished his role following the company's recent addition to the United States' Department of Commerce blacklist. 

Isaac Benbenisti was announced as the NSO Group's new CEO on October 31 but had not yet taken the reins of his new leadership position when he handed in his notice. Before his appointment to the top, Benbenisti had served as one of the NSO Group’s co-presidents. 

The resignation was reported by Israeli media on Thursday, with Benbenisti attributing his decision to the Biden administration’s blacklisting of NSO Group last week. NSO Group is yet to comment on their new appointee’s decision to step down.

NSO Group was one of four companies added to the Entity List by the Biden administration on November 3 “for engaging in activities that are contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States.”

The other companies were Candiru, which is also based in Israel, the Russian-based Positive Technologies, and Computer Security Initiative Consultancy PTE, LTD., which is based in Singapore.

The US Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security said in a statement that the four entities were added “on a determination that they traffic in cyber tools used to gain unauthorized access to information systems, threatening the privacy and security of individuals and organizations worldwide.”

The move makes it difficult for NSO to sell its software globally and would require the Group to obtain a special license to purchase parts and components from companies in the US. 

US Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said: “The United States is committed to aggressively using export controls to hold companies accountable that develop, traffic, or use technologies to conduct malicious activities that threaten the cybersecurity of members of civil society, dissidents, government officials, and organizations here and abroad.”

NSO Group’s blacklisting follows allegations that its signature spyware product – Pegasus – was deployed by several governments to collect information on diplomats, journalists, clergy members, and dissidents. 

A consortium of journalists working with the French non-profit group Forbidden Stories reported multiple cases of activists and journalists, including American citizens, who were hacked by foreign governments using Pegasus.

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