NSO would-be CEO steps down just two weeks after joining embattled company

Itzik Benbenisti was named as the spyware company's new CEO last month, but announced that he is leaving on Thursday following NSO’s blacklisting by the U.S. Commerce Department

Golan Hazani 14:2911.11.21
Less than two weeks after being named as the new CEO, Itzik Benbenisti is leaving the NSO Group. Calcalist has learned that Benbenisti notified NSO chairman Asher Levy on Tuesday that he won't be able to take on the position of CEO due to the circumstances the company finds itself in after it was blacklisted by the U.S. Commerce Department. Benbenisti was appointed to the position by the board on October 31, but wasn't set to start his new role until November 15.


The U.S. Commerce Department added NSO Group and Israel's Candiru to its trade blacklist earlier this month, saying they sold spyware to foreign governments that used the equipment to target government officials, journalists and others.
Itzik Benbenisti. Photo: Amit Shaal Itzik Benbenisti. Photo: Amit Shaal


The companies' addition to the list, for engaging in activities contrary to U.S. national security or foreign policy interests, means that exports to them from U.S. counterparts are restricted. It for instance makes it far harder for U.S. security researchers to sell them information about computer vulnerabilities.


"We are not taking action against countries or governments where these entities are located," said a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department.


Suppliers will need to apply for a license before selling to them, which are likely to be denied.


In the past, the NSO Group and Candiru have been accused of selling hacking tools to authoritarian regimes. NSO says it only sells its products to law enforcement and intelligence agencies and takes steps to curb abuse.


An NSO spokesperson said at the time that the company was "dismayed" by the decision since its technologies "support U.S. national security interests and policies by preventing terrorism and crime, and thus we will advocate for this decision to be reversed."