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NSO Group hearing to play vital role in corporate spyware’s future

January 2020 by GlobalData

Today a court hearing in Tel Aviv, Israel, began what could be a defining point in the development of corporate spyware, as a judge considers whether to revoke the export license of NSO Group. GlobalData technology editor Lucy Ingham says this is a hugely significant case.

Ingham says: “A rising name in the cybersecurity space, NSO Group came to the public’s attention in 2019 as the maker of spyware that can be used to view encrypted WhatsApp messages of individual targets.

“When news first broke of the spyware, the mainstream news’ focus was largely on the shock that WhatsApp – often somewhat incorrectly regarded as the ultimate in communications security – was possible to hack. But slowly the bigger, more shocking aspect seeped into the public consciousness: that this wasn’t the work of some hacking group, but a corporate entity selling the product to governments.

“Today’s hearing will see a judge in Tel Aviv’s District Court hear arguments as to why NSO Group should have its export licence revoked. It follows months of delays as Israel’s Ministry of Defence sought to block the case on national security grounds.

“Amnesty International has been a leading voice in the campaign against the company, and it is the reason NSO Group faces a court hearing today. “Even now, it may be held behind closed doors, limiting the scrutiny that can be applied to it – something that Amnesty is heavily opposed to.” Danna Ingleton, deputy director of Amnesty Tech, told GlobalData: “It is overwhelmingly in the public interest and for press freedom that this case is heard in open court.

“NSO continues to profit from its spyware being used to commit abuses against activists across the world and the Israeli government has stood by and watched it happen. The best way to stop NSO’s powerful spyware products reaching repressive governments is to revoke the company’s export license, and that is exactly what this legal case seeks to do.

“The Ministry of Defence must not be allowed to hide behind a veil of secrecy when it comes to human rights abuses.”

Ingham concludes: “If this case ultimately rules in Amnesty’s favour, it is likely that it will move this issue up the global agenda, and ultimately increase the level of regulation on the industry.

“However, if the case goes in NSO Group’s favour, particularly if it is heard behind closed doors, it will likely sink from public consciousness again, giving greater license to companies making spyware and other offensive cybersecurity tools to further develop their capabilities.”

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