Omri Lavie, co-founder of NSO Group. Image from Lavie’s Google Plus account

Omri Lavie, co-founder of NSO Group                                           Image: Lavie’s Google Plus account

NSO is an Israeli shadowy surveillance company that has developed malwares to hack into mobile phones and sell details to governments, the military and intelligence agencies.

On Thursday, Apple was forced to release a patch update on the existing iOS 9.3 to checkmate security vulnerability of its products.

This became necessary after the discovery of a tool in a hacking attempt on a human rights activist in the United Arab Emirates.

The NSO has become popular over the years for similar occurrences. In 2014, the Wall Street Journal in a blog post reported that the new Israeli startup called NSO had the capacity to hack into phones.

Wall Street Journal added that the selling point of the group is that it claims it can help monitor smartphones of people targeted by government agencies.

The journal also added that the controversial part about companies like NSO is that they usually rely on exploiting security holes in consumer software to help law enforcement and spies.

For the companies to continue operating, these security holes need to be left unpatched.

According to Business Insider, NSO was founded in Herzelia, Israel in December 2009 by Omri Lavie and Shalev Hulio, who are both serial entrepreneurs who had previously started a number of other companies in Israel.

A third founder, Niv Carmi, left the company shortly after its inception and left Lavie and Hulio as majority shareholders.

Since 2009, NSO has developed a reputation for being one of the most secretive outfits in the spying business.

The company, which specialises in the exploitation of mobile phones, has changed its name several times, much like other spies.

“If you want to work successfully in the cloak-and-dagger battlefield of cyber, you don’t want just anyone Googling your information,” Omri Lavie, one of NSO’s co-founders, told Defense News in 2013 in a rare interview.

Although the company does not have a website, on his LinkedIn profile, Lavie describes himself as “a serial entrepreneur, angel investor, early adopter of technologies.”

In 2014, U.S. private equity fund Francisco Partners acquired a majority stake in NSO for around $120 million.

Just over a year later, Francisco was reportedly searching for a sale that could have valued the company at around $1 billion.

At the end of 2015, it had an annual revenue of approximately $75 million.

NSO showed off demonstrations of its mobile phone hacks on a BlackBerry, iPhone, and Android phone in 2013, according to leaked emails from a breach of Hacking Team, a competitor of the company based in Italy.

“Your smartphone today is the new walkie-talkie,” NSO co-founder Omri Lavie told the Financial Times in 2013.

 

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Author: Timilehin Boyinde

Oluwatimilehin Boyinde is a research writer and a social media strategist. A public affairs analyst, he writes about history, politics, sports, life matters and technology. He is passionate about happenings in Local and international political arenas. He is an avid Manchester United fan and an unapologetic Nigerian.