NEW DELHI: Israeli government agencies raided some offices of surveillance software provider NSO Group “to begin assessing” security breach allegations against the company’s Pegasus spyware in the wake of an international media consortium claiming to have denounced various governments spying on prominent personalities, journalists and political rivals. The Israeli defense ministry announced the raids through a tweet.
The Jerusalem Post reported that representatives from Israel’s defense establishment had visited the NSO headquarters on Tuesday.
An NSO spokesperson confirmed the raids on Israeli news website The Record on Wednesday. “Representatives from the Israeli defense ministry visited our offices. We welcome your inspection, ”the spokesperson quoted the website as saying. “The company is working with full transparency with the Israeli authorities. We trust that this inspection will show that the facts are those repeatedly declared by the company in the face of the false accusations that were made against us in the recent media attacks ”.
Although there is little clarity on the nature of the raids, Israeli media outlet Calcalist cited an anonymous source as calling the move “more of a formal meeting than an in-depth audit of NSO documents and computer systems.”
Sources said the raids were carried out at the NSO Group’s Herzliya offices near Tel Aviv. The company is currently licensed by the Israeli government, as is the norm in several countries where there are companies selling offensive security software, such as hacking tools or surveillance software. These companies are required to register with the government and obtain a license to operate.
In 2019, human rights activists had addressed an Israeli court to demand that the Israeli government revoke NSO’s export license citing similar misuse of its software for human rights abuses. However, the court ruled in favor of the company in 2020.
Earlier this month, a global collaborative research project claimed to have found evidence that Pegasus spyware targeted more than 300 mobile phone numbers in India. The alleged list includes the new Minister of Railways and IT Ashwini Vaishnaw and Union MoS Prahlad Singh Patel, in addition to several opposition leaders, including Rahul Gandhi from Congress, a constitutional authority, journalists and business people.
Since then, the BJP-led government has denied allegations that Pegasus spyware was being used to spy on politicians and journalists, calling the report “sensational” and an attempt to “smear Indian democracy and its well-established institutions. “.
Amnesty International, part of the research consortium, issued an official statement refuting the government’s claims. “Amnesty International strongly defends the results of Project Pegasus and that the data is irrefutably linked to possible targets of NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware. False rumors spread on social media are intended to distract attention from illegal attacks widespread targeting of journalists, activists and others revealed by Project Pegasus. ”