On Wednesday, Israeli government authorities inspected the office of spyware vendor NSO Group after a group of media outlets and NGOs worldwide published a series of articles alleging several abuses from NSO customers.
The visit from Israel's Ministry of Defense representatives was first reported by Calcalist, which called it a "raid." NSO Group confirmed authorities came to the office, but described it as a "visit" not a raid. A tweet from the official Ministry of Defense account said that representatives from several bodies came to NSO's office to look into the allegations against the company.
“We can confirm that representatives from the Israeli Ministry of Defense visited our offices. We welcome their inspection. The company is working in full transparency with the Israeli authorities," read the statement, sent by NSO's PR agency via email. "We are confident that this inspection will prove the facts are as declared repeatedly by the Company against the false allegations made against us in the recent media attacks.”
Even the Calcalist story which described the Ministry of Defense's inspection as a raid claims that, according to an anonymous source, the visit was coordinated with NSO in advance and did not involve a close inspection of NSO's computer systems or documents.
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Last week, a consortium of 17 news organizations, including The Washington Post and the Guardian, working along Amnesty International and French non profit Forbidden Stories, began publishing dozens of stories labelled Project Pegasus.
The stories were largely based on an alleged list of 50,000 phone numbers targeted by NSO's customers. Among those numbers there were Hungarian journalists who have done investigations on the local government, Indian activists who are critical of the Narendra Modi government, people close to the murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and even French President Emmanuel Macron, according to reports.
An in depth forensic analysis by Amnesty International's security experts concluded that 37 of the phones on the list were effectively either targeted or hacked with NSO spyware.
NSO has repeatedly denied the allegations in the stories, claiming the company does not maintain a list of targets, that the list is "insane," and that the Qatari government, or a Palestinian activist group, is behind it all.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Defense in Israel said in an email that “representatives of several bodies visited the office of NSO in order to assess the allegations raised in regards to the company.”
UPDATE, July 29, 2021, 11:15 a.m. ET: This story has been updated to include the statement from the Ministry of Defense.
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