Defense contractor L3Harris reportedly in talks to acquire all or part of NSO Group

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According to several reports, an American technology company and a defense contractor L3Harris Technologies Inc. reportedly in talks to acquire all or part of controversial Israeli spyware maker NSO Group Ltd.

The Guardian reports that the negotiations only include L3Harris acquiring surveillance technology from NSO and possibly transferring certain NSO personnel to L3Harris. Other reports, such as this online intelligence, suggest that the talks are aimed at acquiring the entirety of NSO. The only clear part is that discussions for some type of acquisition are underway.

A deal for all or part of NSO wouldn’t be as simple as the two companies agreeing to an acquisition. The deal would require clearance from the US and Israeli governments and already concerns have been raised. “Such a transaction, if it were to take place, would raise serious counterintelligence and security concerns for the US government,” a White House official said.

The NSO Group, with its Pegasus spyware, has been one of, if not the most controversial, cybersecurity companies of recent times. Pegasus is a form of software that uses zero-day exploits to infect mobile devices. The software can breach mobile devices without the user having to perform any action and can infect most versions of iOS and Android.

Although NSO itself is a legitimate cybersecurity company, the problem with Pegasus is that NSO sells Pegasus and those who acquire the software use it for nefarious purposes.

Pegasus was allegedly used to hack around 1,4000 WhatsApp users using US servers, according to a lawsuit filed in 2019. WhatsApp claimed NSO Group was behind a hack in May 2019 in which accounts were were compromised and involved injecting malware by simply ringing a target without requiring a user to accept the call.

The alleged WhatsApp hacks targeted human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers, diplomats and senior foreign government officials. NSO Group denied the allegation, saying its products are used to stop terrorism, fight violent crime and save lives.

A July report revealed that Pegasus was again being used to target journalists and activists. Among the journalists targeted were those who worked for CNN, The Associated Press, Voice of America, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg News, Le Monde, The Financial Times and Al Jazeera. Another report from April revealed that Pegasus had been used to target a device connected to 10 Downing Street, the office and residence of the British Prime Minister.

Continued reports that NSO’s Pegasus is being used for questionable hacking campaigns prompted the Commerce Department to sanction the company in November. The ban prohibited U.S.-based organizations from purchasing, exporting, or transferring cybersecurity tools developed by NSO unless they receive a special license.

In response to the sanction, Israel reduced the number of countries to which local companies could export cybersecurity tools later the same month.

Image: NSO Group

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