What does the US blacklist mean for the future of NSO? – analysis

How bad?

That is a matter of speculation and a lot may depend on how aggressively the United States and other democratic countries act not only against NSO and Candiru, but also against the cyberattack sector in general.

At one end of the spectrum, some are willing to praise NSO and much of the industry for cyberattacks. It was one thing when human rights groups and some media outlets lashed out at the company and its clients, but the US government’s blacklisting of NSO is a much more dire scenario for the company.

At the other end of the spectrum, some seem to suggest that the US action may have been more symbolic, and if aggressive enforcement is not followed up, NSO and others in the sector may continue to trade as usual, although it is possible. they have to choose their customers more carefully.

The exhibition booth of the ISRAELI CYBER NSO Group firm is seen at ISDEF 2019, an international defense and national security exhibition held in Tel Aviv in 2019 (credit: KEREN MANOR).

Amit Meltzer, a former government official who served in the intelligence community, said he thought “the practicalities of the announcement will only become clear in several months.”

He said the question would be whether export licenses to trade with NSOs would be granted “on a routine basis based on the identity of the end customer and declared use,” in which case “the impact will be minimal, but it will provide the US with one. effective supervision “.

Or if the United States will “block or deny the permits”, which would be “a total attempt to stop the offensive cyber market.” Such a move will likely trigger a significant backlash, as it will threaten the entire emerging segment. “

Meltzer, now one of the leading cyber security consultants, said: “I suspect that initial behavior will be restricted and licenses will be granted. If I’m wrong, I expect a lot of offensive cyber companies to switch to non-US components to avoid debilitating oversight. China would welcome the exiles, which would make the move dramatically counterproductive. “

Another source also framed the decision of the United States in terms of competition over which countries dominate the sphere of cyberattacks.

The source suggested that there was no way to put the genie back in the bottle and that if the Israeli cyber offensive sector goes bankrupt, US cyber offensive companies or other countries that are more troublesome to Israel could fill the void.

But Dr. Matan Gutman of Reichman University wrote in a column in Yediot Ahronot that the NSO and the Israeli cyber offensive sector would be hit and possibly hampered in various ways.

Gutman said there is a good chance that other democratic countries will follow suit on the issue.

Even if other democratic governments do not formally go as far as the US, the damage to the NSO’s reputation in other democratic countries, or even non-democratic countries that want to build their relations with the US, could be massive.

Another area where the decision could have a vital impact would be Facebook-WhatsApp’s lawsuit against NSO in the US.

A federal lower court previously ruled against NSO’s sovereign immunity claim against being sued for allegedly hacking 1,400 WhatsApp clients.

The NSO appealed and the last thing it would want as it tries to convince an appeals court that it is a positive force in helping good governments fight terrorism and drug traffickers is an official condemnation from the United States executive branch.

It is not clear whether the statement from the US Department of Commerce will decisively influence the court case, but it could, and even if it does not formally, the judges deciding the case will not have overlooked the message sent by the Wednesday.

If NSO loses and is ordered by the US judiciary to expose its foreign government intelligence clients, there could be a giant and unpredictable impact on the Israeli cybercrime sector and even beyond.

It appears that the US Department of Commerce has changed NSO’s reputation over an extended period, perhaps permanently, and that it has altered the current dynamics in the cybercrime industry.

But whether NSO, Candiru and others will fail (and who would replace them if they did) or if they will be given a chance to find a more careful path remains an open question.


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