The Israeli foreign minister on Wednesday dismissed criticism of the country’s regulation of the cyber espionage company NSO Group, but promised to step up efforts to ensure that the company’s controversial spyware does not fall into the wrong hands.
Yair Lapid noted the government has only limited control over how customers’ defense exports are used. However, he said that Israel was committed to implementing and strengthening security measures to prevent misuse of all types of weapons.
“We will look at this again,” Lapid said. “We will be confident, or try to ensure to the extent of what is feasible and what is not, that no one abuses something we sell.”
NSO has come under public review over news that its flagship spyware product, Pegasus, has been abused by governments to spy on dissidents, journalists, human rights workers and possibly even heads of state. Pegasus is capable of infiltrating a target cell phone, giving users access to data, email, contacts and even their cameras and microphones.
NSO refused the pardon. It says it sells the Pegasus only to governments and only for the purpose of reaching out to criminals and terrorists.
Morocco has denied the allegations, and the NSO said Macron’s phone was not targeted.
Lapid, said he was aware of the “rumors” about NSO, comparing cyber exports to traditional arms sales. He said that despite the many security measures in place, it is impossible to guarantee what a customer will do with the weapon.
“If you sold the jet, the cannon, the gun or the rocket or the Pegasus, it’s in the hands of the government that bought it,” Lapid said. “So we try our best to make sure it does not fall into the wrong hands. But no one has the ability to fully protect the other side after it has been sold.”
But he said Israel was working to ensure that no Pegasus was used “against civilians or against dissidents.”