Israeli Cyberattack Firm NSO to Buy Drone Interception Startup

NSO, which has been linked to hacks on Saudi dissidents and U.S. companies, will purchase Convexum for $60 million in cash

Israeli NSO Group company on a building where they had offices in Herzliya, Israel, August 25, 2016.
Daniella Cheslow,AP

Israeli cyberattack firm NSO said Wednesday it would spend $60 million in cash for an Israeli startup that uses cybersecurity to intercept drones, a move apparently aimed at expanding NSO's capabilities beyond hacking software.

NSO has recently been in the headlines due to charges that its technology has been used to commit abuses against human rights activists and journalists worldwide.

The Tel Aviv-based startup Convexum, founded in 2015, is based on technology developed at the Israel Institute of Technology and uses cybersecurity techniques to face drone threats.

Being a small startup, Convexum only employs 10 people and has raised just $2.2 million in capital from the venture capital fund F2.

Convexum says its technology works on 80 percent of all drones currently on the market and can detect a drone entering an unauthorized airspace and down it. 

NSO is known for its Pegasus 3 software, an espionage tool that does not depend on the victim clicking on a link before the phone is breached.

The Israel Defense Forces website recently reported NSO had developed a new product that can be employed in a specific area to locate nearby cellphones, monitor their calls and messages and even install malware on them.

Journalists, human rights activists and dissidents in several countries have been victims of attacks using NSO spyware, according to the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab researchers.

NSO has denied involvement in some of those cases and declined to discuss others, citing client confidentiality.

The FBI is currently probing the use of NSO's spyware, which has been linked to hacks on Saudi dissidents and U.S. companies, Reuters reported in January. 

The investigation began in 2017, when FBI officials wanted to work out whether NSO possessed code which could infect people's phones, according to a source who was interviewed by the FBI.

Also in January, United Nations experts said NSO and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman may have been involved in a plot to hack the phone of Amazon's billionaire boss Jeff Bezos.

NSO denied the suggestion in a statement, asserting that it could "say unequivocally that our technology was not used in this instance," and that the claims "highlight the need for the surveillance community to follow our lead and implement strict Human Rights Policies and to act in a compliant manner."