NSO chief: 'There are people who don't want Israel to export technology'

Publication Date23 July 2021
AuthorArutz Sheva Staff
In an interview with Israel Hayom's Yoav Limor for the paper's weekend supplement, Hulio says, "We'll be very happy if there is an investigation into the affair, because we'll be able to clear our name."

"We don't have and have never had any ties to the list that was published, and if it turns out that there was some client who exploited our system to track journalists or human rights workers, they'll be cut off immediately. We've proven that in the past, including with some of our biggest customers, and we stopped working with them," he says.

Q: If your system wasn't used for nefarious purposes, like you claim, why don't you open everything and show everyone that everything is fine?

"Because there are issues of privacy, and matters of national security and trade agreements with the countries we work with, and I can't go out and say, 'This we did, and this we didn't do.' But if any government entity approaches me – anyone, from any country – I'm willing to open everything, let them come in, dig around. Let them come."

Pegasus is considered the most advanced program in the world when it comes to cracking cellphones. It allows the user to pull all the data out of the device, including correspondence (even encrypted) and photos, without leaving traces. It also allows the program user to activate the compromised device's camera and microphone remotely. The expose published this week was based on a leaked list of 50,000 cellphone numbers that various governments allegedly asked to crack using NSO's program.

Hulio, 39, says that he first learned of the affair about a month ago.

"A third party reached out to me, someone we work with not involved [in the affair] and said, 'Listen, they've broken into your servers in Cyprus and the entire list of NSO targets has been leaked.' I started to get stressed, but after a moment I calmed down, both because we don't have servers in Cyprus and also because we don't have a list of 'targets.' It doesn't work that way: every customer is a unique customer. We don't have any central location where all the customers' targets are collected."

Q: What did you do?

"In the meantime, we checked our servers, and we checked with the customers, and we didn't find anything that had been cracked. But because it seemed strange, I asked the guy to bring us examples from the leaked list. We got them – a few phone numbers – and started to check them with our customers. Not a single one was a target for Pegasus. I realized it had nothing to do with us, and we moved on."

But the story refused to die. A few days later, Hulio was contacted by another businessman with an identical story about an NSO "list of targets" that was going around the market, and beyond that, a list of questions from the consortium of journalists who exposed the affairs this week in the international media.

"There were crazy allegations there. At first, I laughed, and said to myself that someone is going to fall hard, but then a friend told me I wasn't getting that they were going to come down on us, hard. At that stage, we already knew it was a list that had nothing to do with us. We hired a firm of lawyers and started to send out letters, and the fact is that most media outlets were convinced. The editor [in chief] of the Washington Post even wrote that she didn't know where the list had come from or who had put the numbers on it, and that she had no confirmation that the numbers were associated with Pegasus or had even ever been targets or potential targets."

Q: So who is behind this story?

"It looks like someone decided to come after us. This whole story isn't just incidental. The Israeli cyber sector is under attack, in general. There are so many cyber intelligence companies in the world, but everyone just focuses on the Israeli ones. Forming a consortium like this of journalists from all over the world and bringing Amnesty [International] into it – it looks like there's a guiding hand behind it."

Q: Whose?

"I believe that in the end, it will turn out to be Qatar, or the BDS movement, or both. In the end...

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