Israel has reportedly frozen export licenses for technology that can be used to carry out cyberattacks, amid a widening scandal over sales of NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware at home and abroad, according to a report Thursday.
According to Channel 13 news, the Defense Ministry’s licensing arm, which must approve sales of sensitive technology abroad, has stopped issuing licenses for products like Pegasus, which is thought to have been sold to regimes around the world that used it to spy on its own citizens, including dissidents, activists and journalists.
The freeze will be in effect until the ministry conducts an in-depth review into the spyware’s usage, the Thursday report said. It did not attribute the claims to a source.
The news channel reported that Israel would also not renew such licenses for several Gulf states that use the software and which are in need of renewal in the near future.
Several Israeli tech firms have developed powerful spyware tools sold internationally. NSO’s Pegasus is considered one of the most powerful cyber-surveillance tools available on the market, giving operators the ability to effectively take full control of a target’s phone, download all data from the device, or activate its camera or microphone without the user knowing.
NSO says it sells Pegasus only to governments for the purpose of fighting crime and terrorism. All sales require approval from the Defense Ministry.
The company has been involved in numerous scandals in recent years and has faced a torrent of international criticism over allegations it allows governments, including dictatorships and authoritarian regimes, to spy on dissidents and rights activists.
In recent weeks, the Israeli business daily Calcalist has published a series of reports alleging that Israeli police used Pegasus without proper approvals to keep tabs on Israeli targets, including political protesters.
Police initially denied abusing the product, but admitted on Tuesday that they had found evidence that some electronic surveillance of Israeli citizens had been conducted without receiving proper judicial oversight, after Israel’s attorney general opened an investigation into the matter.