Expect cyberattacks to up the ante says head of NSO Group

“Cyberattacks are something we will see more and more of over the coming period. It won’t end, not even when the world emerges from the pandemic and returns to routine,” Shalev Hulio tells Calcalist at Cybernation conference

Sophie Shulman 12:0812.04.21
“Cyberattacks are something we will see more and more of over the coming period. It won’t end, not even when the world emerges from the pandemic and returns to routine. We are seeing a global trend of countries and criminal organizations who engage in offensive activity to cause harm to others, and make a profit for themselves, but organizations and tech companies understand the threat today more so than in the past and provide suitable solutions. This makes it harder for cybercriminals to succeed,” said Shalev Hulio, Founding Partner and CEO of the NSO Group during Calcalist’s Cybernation Conference. NSO, which was founded by Hulio and Omri Lavie, operates in the cybersecurity market, and provides solutions which allow it to gather information from smartphones through its Pegasus spyware, which is used by many governmental entities.


“Over the past year, we’ve seen more and more cyberattacks and law enforcement bodies involved in pursuing cybercriminals. Ransomware demands have become a strong trend over the past two years. On our end, we see the demand for NSO’s tools which help locate cybercriminals, and ransom demands, coming mainly from Europe. Although some companies deal with ransom demands independently, such demands are a violation of state law and therefore government authorities must search for the attackers and reach them.”
NSO Group CEO Shalev Hulio NSO Group CEO Shalev Hulio


In light of the sharp rise of cybercrime and even larger threats, do you think there is more awareness on behalf of governments to invest resources in solutions to locate and prevent those cyberattacks? In the past, countries may have hesitated to work with you due to your company being an offensive cyber firm which reportedly violated privacy rights - so are they willing to work with you today?


“We’ve never had an issue with countries who didn’t want to work with us, and the bulk of our activity is in democratic European countries and those which are considered to be democratic. We don’t see any change whatsoever in that regard.”


But considering everything that has been linked to your name in the past, how can you make sure spyware software won’t reach the wrong hands?


“Our system comes with several protective mechanisms. Throughout our many years of operations, there have been more entities which wanted to purchase our solutions who we turned down than entities we have actually sold to. There’s plenty of news out there floating around that is filled with factual inconsistencies. For every sale that we conduct, every government signs an agreement which prohibits it from transferring our technology over to a third party, and we are also equipped with technological means - among them biometric tools - which don’t allow our platform to be transferred from one location to another and be used by a person who wasn’t authorized in advance.”


How has your work in Europe been affected by GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) laws?


“Since our founding, we’ve been working in accordance with regulations. Any use of our systems requires a country to comply with GDPR laws and court orders. It’s impossible to operate without control and monitoring mechanisms.”


Over the past few months, it was revealed that your company is considering making an initial public offering (IPO) and you’ve even met with the CEO of the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange Ittai Ben-Zeev. You’re certainly not lacking attention from special-purpose acquisition companies (SPAC) either. Is it realistic to become a publicly-traded company whose work is very hush-hush and shrouded in secrecy?


“We received over the past year many offers to merge with SPACs, as well as offers from private investment firms, and also from different stock exchanges around the world,” Hulio said, “we don’t operate in a hush-hush manner, and we are very transparent and open but we can’t always reveal the names of our customers. But that is true for a lot of companies. We still haven’t decided whether to head for an IPO or a SPAC, however, we are examining all of our options and are at the stage where we are considering whether we want to go public. We will decide over the coming year which direction we plan on taking.”