The founders behind NSO Group, an Israeli company that makes “lawful intercept” tools used by governments to spy on terrorists and criminals—but also, as I reported yesterday, civilians in multiple countries—are doubling down not on attacking devices but defending them.
In early November, NSO Group cofounder Omri Lavie told the Reuters Cyber Summit that he and investment partner Issac Zack were raising funds for Orchestra, a company that will aim to simplify cyber security.
This comes only months after Francisco Partners, the private equity firm that owns NSO Group, failed to sell part of the company to the New York-based Blackstone Group, at a reported valuation of $1 billion.. The collapse of the deal came amid reports this summer by The New York Times and digital rights group Citizen Lab about how Pegasus had been used to attack dozens of civilians, dissidents, and lawyers in Mexico, the United Arab Emirates, and elsewhere. (Apple and Google promptly issued updates to defend against NSO’s spyware, but that doesn’t guarantee that every phone is protected.)
The company has also earned controversy for its links to former White House national security adviser Lt. General Michael Flynn: last year, Flynn’s various consulting gigs included work for Francisco Partners and for an NSO Group offshoot. Flynn, who pled guilty on Friday to lying to the FBI about his conversations with the Russian government, was paid a total of about $140,000 for his advice, which he provided while he was working with the Trump campaign. (NSO and Francisco did not respond to requests for comment.)
Orchestra will launch in 2018, with offices in Tel Aviv and on the East Coast of the United States, Lavie and Zack said. It is being financed by their investment firm Founders Group, whose CEO is Shalev Hulio, another NSO Group cofounder.