Israeli Spyware Firm NSO in Talks to Acquire Startup Led by Former Military Chief

NSO has received harsh criticism after accusations that its software has been used by governments to spy on journalists, human rights activists and other dissidents

FILE Photo: Two of the founders of NSO, Shalev Julio and Omri Lavi.

NSO, a controversial Israeli spyware company, is in talks to acquire Fifth Dimension, a startup that has developed technology for conducting police investigations, sources told TheMarker.

Fifth Dimension is led by former Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. (ret.) Benny Gantz. Neither company would confirm the report, but sources told TheMarker that NSO is studying a possible acquisition in order to help improve its reputation by linking up with some of Israel's best known security figures.

NSO is one of Israel's biggest cybersecurity companies, with a staff of 600 and has been ensnared in controversy after allegations that its Pegasus smartphone-snooping technology had allegedly been used by some governments to spy on dissidents and journalists.

>> Revealed: Israel's cyber-spy industry helps world dictators hunt dissidents and gays

The Canadian human rights organization Citizens Lab says NSO has sold its platform to 45 countries, including Saudi Arabia.

Fifth Dimension was founded four years ago and counts several former leading Israeli defense establishment figures, including Gantz, who is chairman, and Ram Ben-Barak, a former deputy head of the Mossad.

Last week former U.S. intelligence worker Edward Snowden said that NSO technology was used to help track dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi who was killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October.

According to a report by Citizen Lab, NSO's Pegasus spyware had been installed on the phone of  Omar Abdulaziz, another exiled Saudi dissident and a friend of Khashoggi's. Abdulaziz claims that his phone was being monitored at the time.

NSO responded to such allegations saying: "On a daily basis, NSO assists in saving lives of thousands of people from the hands of terrorists, drug barons, child-abductors, pedophiles and others."

Pegasus makes it possible to carry out nearly limitless surveillance of individuals, including taking control of cell phones. Its capabilities include collecting information about a phone's location, wiretapping into it, recording conversations taking place near a phone and photographing those in the vicinity of the phone.