Founder of Notorious Israeli Spyware Firm NSO Steps Down as CEO

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A logo adorns a wall on a branch of the Israeli NSO Group company, near the southern Israeli town of Sapir.
A logo adorns a wall on a branch of the Israeli NSO Group company, near the southern Israeli town of Sapir.Credit: Sebastian Scheiner / AP

Israeli spyware firm NSO has chosen a new CEO, replacing co-founder and longtime chief Shalev Hulio with the company’s co-president, Itzik Benbenisti. Hulio will become vice chairman of the company’s board of directors, as well as NSO’s president.

NSO Group officially announced the move on Sunday: “Shalev Hulio, the Founder and CEO of NSO Group, announced today he will assume a new role in NSO’s leadership, as a Vice Chairman of the Board and as the Global President.

"This announcement follows Hulio’s announcement from February that he will continue taking part of NSO’s leadership, focusing on strategic global issues and partnerships, and deepening investments and opportunities for scaling.”

Hulio intends to lead the company into new fields, including cyberdefense. Benbenisti will focus on strategic financial moves, such as a possible initial public offering. Prior to his time at NSO, Benbenisti served as the CEO of Partner and Bezeq International, two major Israeli communications companies.

In March, Hulio told employees at a company event that he was planning on leaving his post at NSO, which he co-founded in 2010. He told them at the time that the company had two options for bringing in significant capital: major financial investments from a private investor or an initial public offering. In the latter case, Hulio said he would remain part with the firm but would recommend hiring a professional CEO with experience in managing public companies, while he would shift to a new role, perhaps as president. 

Isaac (Itzik) Benbenisti, NSO group's new CEO.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

In the announcement, Hulio said: “I am happy to continue and take part of NSO’s leading team and contribute to its long-term growth and success in my new position. My responsibilities will allow me to focus on bringing into action my entrepreneurial experience, knowledge and passion and help to further develop NSO’s strategy together with Isaac towards new directions such as analytics and defensive cyber security.”

He added, “Isaac’s background and experience in leading enterprises and complex operations is exactly what is required from the company’s CEO at this time. I think we made a great choice in appointing Isaac to serve as a CEO, and I look forward to continue working with him and together lead the company forward.”

Benbenisti said he was honored to lead the company. “ I learned firsthand from our customers about their deep appreciation for NSO Group and of the enormous value that are our technologies bring to their mission of protecting innocent lives and keeping the safety of their citizens by allowing them to investigate and prevent terror and major crime.

"I am impressed with the high moral standards, ethical framework and compliance policies that streamlines throughout everything NSO Group does, and especially the willingness to continue improving at all fronts.”

The cyberespionage firm is best known for its Pegasus phone hacking software. The company has been contending with the fallout from 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. The project 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.

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