NSO Group has blocked some of its government clients abroad from using its spyware as it examines allegations of misuse, according to a US report Thursday.
“There is an investigation into some clients. Some of those clients have been temporarily suspended,” a NSO employee was quoted saying by National Public Radio.
The source did not specify which countries or how many, saying NSO was barred under defense regulations from identifying its clients.
The Israel-based company has repeatedly been accused of selling its Pegasus spyware to repressive countries that use it to target journalists, activists and politicians.
The unnamed employee also would not comment on any possible misuse that the firm has uncovered in an internal probe.
“Almost everything we checked, we found no connection to Pegasus,” the source said.
NSO’s general counsel also commented on the company’s investigation.
“What we are doing is, what I think today is, the best standard that can be done,” Shmuel Sunray told NPR. “We’re on the one hand, I think, the world leaders in our human rights compliance, and the other hand we’re the poster child of human rights abuse.”
In a bombshell investigation released this month, NSO was accused of selling the spyware to the governments of Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Hungary, India, and the United Arab Emirates, which used it to hack into the phones of dissidents and human rights activists.
Pegasus spyware can switch on a phone’s camera or microphone and harvest its data, and is at the center of a storm after a list of about 50,000 potential surveillance targets worldwide was leaked to human rights groups.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Wednesday met with his French counterpart, Florence Parly in Paris, after President Emmanuel Macron had reportedly been a possible target of the spyware.
Macron reportedly directly called Prime Minister Naftali Bennett last week to demand that Israel investigate the allegations.
Gantz on Wednesday relayed that NSO’s technology had not been used to hack into the phones of Macron or other local officials, according to Channel 13 news.
“[Gantz] noted that the State of Israel approves the export of cyber products exclusively to governmental entities, for lawful use and only for the purpose of preventing and investigating crime and counter-terrorism,” a Defense Ministry statement read.
Israel’s defense establishment set up a committee to review NSO’s business, including the process through which export licenses are granted.
Pegasus’s list of alleged targets includes at least 600 politicians, 180 journalists, 85 human rights activists and 65 business leaders.