Spyware Maker NSO Chief Quits After U.S. Blacklisting Scandal

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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's new CEO Itzik Benbenisti announced his resignation on Thursday, only two weeks after he started acting as the company's director.

Sources around Benbenisti say he had made his decision after the U.S. Commerce Department blacklisted the Israeli spyware firm and due to ongoing challenges the company faces. 

Benbenisti, also cited the ongoing economic and legal obstacles that have resulted from the scandal in his decision to leave after having worked in NSO for a total of three months.    

NSO group confirmed Benbenisti's intentions of leaving.

Two weeks ago, NSO announced Benbenisti's appointment, replacing co-founder and longtime chief Shalev Hulio.

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

“Shalev Hulio, the Founder and CEO of NSO Group, reported he will assume a new role in NSO’s leadership, as a Vice Chairman of the Board and as the Global President," a statement by NSO said earlier this month.

"This announcement follows Hulio’s statement 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. 

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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