NSO Group wanted access to global mobile network via telecom company

NSO Group, an Israeli spyware developer, is said to have approached an American telecom company for access to global mobile networks. In return, they would have offered “bags of money”. This reports The Washington Post. A whistleblower described the incident in confidential disclosures to the Justice Department, which The Washington Post has seen.

Bags of money for information

The whistleblower, Gary Miller, is a former vice president at the US telecom company in question: Mobileum. The company provides security services to mobile networks around the world. According to Miller, NSO Group’s offer came during an August 2017 conference call between NSO Group officials and Mobileum representatives.

The NSO officials were specifically looking for access to the SS7 network. This is a network that helps mobile companies with users around the world to route their calls and services. According to the whistleblower, the officials wanted to use SS7 to enable their customers to tap mobile phones to investigate crimes. In exchange for access to the SS7 network, NSO Group offered Mobileum “bags of cash,” according to whistleblower Miller.

Miller already approached the FBI in 2017 but received no response. Last year, he filed a complaint with the US Department of Justice. Miller also approached Democrat Ted Lieu, a member of the House of Representatives, who then shared the news with journalists. According to Lieu, with access to the SS7 network, NSO could “spy a large number of cell phones in the United States and other countries.”

Both parties deny

Both Mobileum and NSO Group deny that an offer was ever made. Mobileum chief executive Bobby Srinivasan said in a statement: “Mobileum has and has never had a business relationship with NSO Group.” NSO co-founder Omri Lavie stated in a statement via a spokesperson that no business has been done with Mobileum.

The CEO also denied having offered bags of money. “Mr Lavie doesn’t recall using the phrase ‘bags of cash, and he doesn’t think he has. However, if those words were used, they would have been completely in jest.”

Eavesdropping software Pegasus

NSO Group is the organization behind espionage software Pegasus. This spyware is said to have been used to hack into phones belonging to human rights activists, journalists and lawyers worldwide. The wiretaps may include French President Emmanuel Macron and Moroccan King Mohammed VI. Last year, a group of 17 news organizations said they had a list of 50,000 phone numbers that came from the Israeli spy company. At least 189 journalists worldwide are said to have been spied on.

In November, the United States placed NSO Group on a list of companies posing a risk to national security. This means that US companies are not allowed to sell products or services to NSO Group. The European Parliament wants an inquiry into the use of Pegasus software by European governments.

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