NSO Group: A PR Consequence and Expected If Not Anticipated

July 28, 2021

The intelware outfit NSO Group has moved from a narrow, somewhat wonky specialized services niche to a different arena. The development was discussed my the DarkCyber research team when the news of the NSO Group ice cream spill floated to the top of the info river. (Why are we using the code phrase ice cream meltdown? Maybe a Ben and Jerry’s reference to certain interests not aligned with those of Israel’s specialized services industry? Metaphors are the stuff of poetry, so you will have to reach your own conclusions.)

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So the ice cream meltdown is getting messy. DarkCyber was not surprised to read “Snowden Skewers Big Tech, Amoral Capital Firms for Enabling Insecurity Industry & Calls for Urgent Action.” The write up appears in an interesting publication which runs advertising to supplement its other sources of income. Snowden, as you may recall, is a former security sector worker bee who dumped documents, many of which are marked as secret or classified. Then Mr. Snowden found himself within the fashionable confines of Sheremetyevo International Airport. He then repaired to a more permanent location in Moscow and crafted a bit of work thinking, writing blog posts, doing lectures, and giving interviews. The topics are mostly about security, which is a shorthand way of rippling the fabric of some countries’ intelligence gathering nets.

The write up states:

In a searing post on his blog, ‘Continuing Ed’, the NSA whistleblower pointed to the Pegasus scandal as a “turning point” that exposed the “fatal consequences” of private-sector companies like the NSO Group that are part of this “out-of-control” industry – whose “sole purpose is the production of vulnerability.” “The phone in your hand exists in a state of perpetual insecurity, open to infection by anyone willing to put money in the hand of this new Insecurity Industry,” Snowden noted, adding that its clients range from countries to “sex-criminal Hollywood producers who can dig a few million out of their couch cushions.”

The write up, not content to link to Mr. Snowden’s intriguing blog, includes one of his tweets which is in italics below:

If you want to see Microsoft have a heart attack, talk about defining legal liability for bad code in a commercial product. To give Facebook nightmares, talk about making it legally liable for leaks of their unnecessarily collected personal records.

Several observations I want to capture before I forget them are:

  1. The NSO Group ice cream melting has become a sticky mess. The PR problem spilled into the political arena in Israel, and now it has captured other entities and their methods as well. I think it is crisis management time, not SEO content management time.
  2. Mr. Snowden’s comments indicate that he is not a fan of some of the business practices associated with the US and its allies. This raises the question, “To what is Mr. Snowden allied?”
  3. The language of the Russia Today write up makes it clear that NSO Group has jumped from specialized software to the foil for state-sponsored cyber activities. The NSO Group’s actions, one might conclude, make the actions of a few young hackers look like very small potatoes like those grown near the border of Estonia.

The NSO Group ice cream melt may spread farther, attract flies, and damage some very expensive kitchen furnishings, maybe a careless person’s jumper, and require replacement of some placemats.

Yep, melting ice cream. A mess with consequences for the specialized services sector.

Stephen E Arnold, July 28, 2021

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