Isaac Benbenisti has announced that he is leaving Israeli cyberattack company NSO Group only two weeks after being appointed CEO. The former Partner Communications and Bezeq International CEO was meant to replace founder and current CEO Shalev Hulio but has decided that due to the new situation, he cannot assume the role. Hulio is expected to continue as CEO.
The new situation referred to by Benbenisti was the announcement by the US Department of Commerce that it has added Israeli cyberattack companies NSO Group and Candiru to a list of companies operating against US national security and foreign policy interests.
The US Department of Commerce said, "NSO Group and Candiru were added to the Entity List based on evidence that these entities developed and supplied spyware to foreign governments. The spyware tools were used to maliciously target government officials, journalists, businesspeople, activists, academics, and embassy workers. These tools have also enabled foreign governments to conduct transnational repression, which is the practice of authoritarian governments targeting dissidents, journalists and activists outside of their sovereign borders to silence dissent. Such practices threaten the rules-based international order.
Benbenisti joined NSO last summer and served as co-president with Shiri Dolev. At the end of October, NSO announced that Benbenisti would take up the reins as CEO, with Hulio becoming deputy chairman and global president.
NSO has been thrown into crisis since the publication in July of a broad investigation into the use of its Pegasus spyware by Amnesty International and Forbidden Stories, which uncovered spying on journalists, human rights workers and politicians by breaching their phones. "Reuters" estimated that the company lost contracts worth $300 million annually following publication of the report. NSO lost several clients and said it would stop working in the UAE after the ruler of Dubai used the spyware against his former wife. The Indian High Court has also ordered an investigation into NSO's activities, which it described as Orwellian.
Benbenisti had planned to promote change at NSO by expanding to new and less controversial areas such as cybersecurity in the commercial sector. However, he probably understood that it would be difficult to do this while the company was blacklisted in the US. Hulio will now try to change the US decision, which is a huge blow for NSO.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on November 11, 2021.
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