Israeli spyware company NSO chairman says ‘ownership will not change,’ ‘important’ work to continue

“Continue to do the important things you do,” the NSO chairman told employees.

By Omer Kabir, CTech

The control of the fund that owns NSO will not change, however, shareholders will replace its managing body. This is what the chairman of NSO, Asher Levy, claimed in a letter, obtained by Calcalist, which was sent to the employees of the embroiled Israeli company.

In recent days, there have been reports that investors in the private equity firm Novalpina Capital, which owns NSO, are discussing selling its control of the Israeli cyber company to the American consulting firm Berkeley Research Group. Although these reports have not been linked to the recent controversy around the Israeli company, they have raised concerns about the company’s future and stability at a time when it is at the receiving end of unprecedented international criticism.

This criticism arose following an extensive investigation by Amnesty and the Forbidden Stories press consortium, centered on a leaked list of 50,000 phone numbers that some NSO’s Pegasus software customers were interested in. The list includes, among other things, telephone numbers of journalists, senior politicians, and businessmen. The authors of the study also performed an in-depth laboratory analysis of 67 devices from this list. The investigation revealed that more than half of them, 37 phones, had evidence of activity of the Israeli spyware.

The lab analysis also found evidence that only a short time passed from the time these numbers made the list and until they were hacked by Pegasus, in some cases even a few seconds later.

Monitoring journalists

Last week it was reported that a separate investigation conducted by France into two other journalists’ devices whose numbers appeared on the list also found traces of Pegasus.

The investigation provoked worldwide condemnation, as well as calls for investigating and restricting NSO’s activity. It was also at the center of a meeting between Defense Minister Benny Gantz and his French counterpart, during which he had to assure that French President Emmanuel Macron’s phone had not been hacked by Pegasus.

Now, in a letter to NSO employees, the chairman claims that the change in Novalpina is not expected to affect the composition of the company’s shareholders.

“Some of you may have read yesterday’s report that following a struggle between the founders of the fund that holds the majority of NSO shares, Novalpina Capital has lost control of the fund,” he wrote.

However, according to Levy, this is not a loss of control of a group of investors (which includes institutional investors and pension funds), the Limited Partners, rather a change in the composition of the governing body (which Levy said “consisted of three people: Stephen, Stefan, and Bastian”), the General Partners.

“Following internal disputes between the partners of the fund’s governing body, investors decided to replace the fund’s management, and appointed an American management company, which would step into the shoes of the previous governing body,” Levy wrote to employees. “We, the members of the company’s board of directors and management, knew and are updated on the issue ahead of time, and work in full coordination and cooperation with one common goal which is the success and growth of NSO.”

Levy also wrote that the change in Novalpina was not related to recent reports about the company. “There is no connection between the two. Investors have chosen to replace the fund’s management body, but they have great confidence in the company, its management, technology, business model, and in you, the employees. We continue to work with the fund under the new management company, the change in the fund’s management body has no effect on NSO’s financial situation, its financial stability, strategy, or the continuation of its operations.”

“I want to strengthen your hands and spirit”

Levy also referred to the investigation itself. “It is not easy to continue to do the important and good things you all do in the face of such a media attack, and especially when you know, best of all, how dramatic and outrageous the gap is between reality and facts, and the newspaper headlines,” he wrote.

“I want to strengthen your hands and spirit. We are full of appreciation for each and every one of you, always, and certainly these days. Continue to do the important things you do with dedication and great talent. I am proud of you,” Levy signed.

However, Levy did not directly address the allegations made against the company or the investigation launched by the Ministry of Defense. As part of this investigation, representatives of the ministry visited the NSO offices in Herzliya last week for what was defined as an “audit.”

It is important to note that at least at this stage, the audit does not seem to be an in-depth review. As reported last week in Calcalist, the visit consisted mainly of briefings by senior executives, and at no stage were computers or internal documents inspected. It is extremely doubtful whether this examination can have any effect on calming the growing criticism against the company.