The Israeli cyber weapons firm NSO Group, still reeling from a stinging string of revelations regarding misuse of its Pegasus spyware, has launched a new social media campaign. Using the hashtag #IamNSO, the firm has taken to LinkedIn to stress the “pride” its “family” of workers have in the company.
“We help our customers to save lives,” the post on Linkedin read.
The post also included a number of photos of workers of the Israeli-based cyber firm, together with members of their families. “Meet our extended family – our partners, our moms and dads, our sons and daughters,” the post read.
The post comes a few weeks after the publication of Project Pegasus. Project Pegasus, a global investigation led by the Paris-based nonprofit Forbidden Stories together with Amnesty International and a consortium of journalists from 17 news outlets across the world – including Haaretz – was based on leaked data and revealed a long list of high-profile individuals who were selected as possible targets for potential snooping by the firm’s Pegasus spyware by NSO’s clients.
The investigation prompted widespread criticism when it revealed that scores of journalists, human rights activists and world leaders were potentially selected as targets, including French President Emmanuel Macron and the Dalai Lama. The revelations sparked a diplomatic crisis between Israel and France, which is fuming over the alleged misuse of the Israeli-made spyware technology at the hands of the Moroccan intelligence service, one of NSO’s clients.
Haaretz contributed to the project by highlighting the role of cyber-weapon sales in Israel’s diplomacy, with many of the client countries being those visited and courted by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in recent years.
In light of the investigation, many on Linkedin took issue with the post, and alongside positive comments by current workers at NSO, there were also critical responses. “Wow, amazing! A real source of pride” a payroll manager at NSO wrote, prompting others to respond: “Proud of helping make sure people die? That freedom of speech be castrated by leaders? What's there to be proud about?" Another wrote: "When the money rolls in, everyone's mouth is shut."
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The post also used a catchphrase NSO uses to recruit new workers, asking "What your superpower?" To which one person responded: "My superpower is not to be recruited by NSO."
Another used quipped: “Why ask [what my superpower is – you can just break into my phone and check yourselves.”
Left-wing activist Ori Kol also responded to the post, writing “he’s not sure” and then quickly adding: “I was just kidding, please don't hack into my phone.”
The Linkedin post is the first time NSO has gone on the offensive since the publication of the global investigation. A few days after the first headlines from Project Pegasus were published, the firm posted a message on its website titled “Enough is Enough”. The message said the company would no longer be responding to media reports about it and lambasted the leak and investigation.
“In light of the recent planned and well-orchestrated media campaign led by Forbidden Stories and pushed by special interest groups, and due to the complete disregard of the facts, NSO is announcing it will no longer be responding to media inquiries on this matter, and it will not play along with the vicious and slanderous campaign,” the firm said.
Reiterating its position on the database and leak, it said: “The list is not a list of targets or potential targets of Pegasus ... The numbers in the list are not related to NSO group ... Any claim that a name in the list is necessarily related to a Pegasus target or Pegasus potential target is erroneous and false.”
Haaretz later spoke with workers at NSO who described frustration and what they said was a misrepresentation of the firm. The talks with the workers were held with a PR representative present, but many of the workers said the firm was being unfairly singled out by the media, despite other similar firms providing similar services. They also said that contrary to common wisdom, working at NSO does not come with a taboo that makes finding future work impossible. In fact, many of NSO’s workers said that in the wake of the investigation they received many job offers via LinkedIn.
NSO has had a tough year. As well as Project Pegasus, the coronavirus has also hurt its income just as it moves towards a possible public listing (through what is termed a SPAC merger). This is not the first time NSO has had to play damage control both in terms of its public relations and its ability to attract and retain talent, and the company has in the past held events for workers' families.