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CEO of spyware vendor NSO Group steps down

Current NSO Group COO Yaron Shohat will replace outgoing CEO Shalev Hulio as part of a reorganization for the vendor, which has come under fire from the U.S. government.

NSO Group announced Sunday that its CEO, Shalev Hulio, will step down amid a "reorganization" for the Israeli spyware vendor.

The press release announcing the executive change gave little detail regarding the reorganization, though multiple media outlets reported that approximately 100 employees were let go. NSO Group said in its announcement that the process "will examine all aspects of its business, including streamlining its operations to ensure NSO remains one of the world's leading high-tech cyber intelligence companies, focusing on NATO-member countries."

Replacing Hulio will be Yaron Shohat, the current COO of the organization.

NSO Group, founded in 2010, is known for its Pegasus spyware. On its website, NSO Group describes its technology use case as a tool to prevent terrorist attacks and crime.

However, the company has been repeatedly accused of exploiting zero-day vulnerabilities and selling its surveillance services to government agencies in order to target activists, dissidents and journalists. The company's spyware was linked to the death of Saudi journalist and activist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered in 2018.

Late last year, the United States blacklisted NSO Group, adding it to its Entity List for "engaging in activities that are contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States." Though it is not impossible to conduct business dealings with organizations on the U.S. Entity List, NSO Group's status as a surveillance vendor effectively prohibits domestic companies from dealing with it.

In addition, Apple is currently suing NSO Group for its activities, accusing the company of repeatedly exploiting iOS vulnerabilities and hacking into customers' devices as well as Apple's servers. As a result, Apple is introducing a new Lockdown Mode feature to prevent future abuse from spyware vendors such as NSO Group.

The company had not responded to TechTarget Editorial's request for comment at press time.

In the announcement, Hulio called incoming CEO Shohat "a very significant force multiplier for the continued advancement of the company."

Shohat's quote, meanwhile, referred to NSO Group as "an amazing company with exceptionally talented and devoted employees."

"The global high-tech industry, has undergone a series of changes in recent years, including in the cyber intelligence sphere," Shohat said. "NSO will ensure that the company's groundbreaking technologies are used for rightful and worthy purposes."

Alexander Culafi is a writer, journalist and podcaster based in Boston.

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