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An Israeli company known for its sophisticated products Phone surveillance technology on Monday dismissed allegations that the snooping software contributed to the assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The NSO group has been confronted with similar claims in the past that its products have been used to suppress dissent in other countries. However, the alleged connection with the killing of Khashoggi is the most prominent case yet, redirecting the business practices of the secret company and the oversight of the Israeli government's private defense companies.
The most recent case against NSO was set out in a report lawsuit filed before an Israeli court on Sunday by a Saudi dissident. In the lawsuit, Omar Abdulaziz, a sharp online critic of the Saudi royal family living in exile in Canada, said he was a friend of Khashoggi and their communications are monitored by the Saudis with NSO software.
Abdulaziz said he clicked Link was sent to his phone in June 201
Abdulaziz also believes his collaboration with Khashoggi was a "crucial factor" in the killing of the US Washington Post columnist. The men had been working on a project to rein in Saudi Arabian trolls into the monarchy.
Alaa Mahajna, lawyer for the Saudi dissident, said the NSO is selling technology to "dictatorship states" like Saudi Arabia to spy on journalists and human rights activists.
"The lawsuit proves that with this technology, Saudi Arabia succeeded in following Jamal Khashoggi and his interactions with Omar Abdulaziz," he said.
The lawsuit is advised that Abdulaziz had been informed by Internet Watchdog Citizen Lab compromised. It cites news reports and other sources claiming that the NSO Group sold Saudi Arabia's technology in 2017 for $ 55 million. Abdulaziz claims damages of around $ 160,000 and an order preventing NSO from selling its technology to Saudi Arabia.
NSO issued a statement in which he described the lawsuit as "completely unfounded." She claimed that the lawsuit was based on inaccurate "press clippings" and did not "prove that the company's technology was used."
"We are pursuing a highly conscientious approach to licensing our products, which will be provided after a full audit and licensing by the Israeli government," he said.
The Israeli Defense Ministry said it was "meticulous" in granting export licenses, but refused to comment on its policy, citing security concerns.
The NSO Group's Smartphone Hacking Technology has become a favorite for authorities seeking to suppress dissidents in the Middle East and Latin America.
The Israeli company's software is part of a larger malware family that enables spies to remotely control phones from anywhere in the world. Turn the devices in the pockets of targets into powerful surveillance tools.
The company said its products are "only approved for use by governments and law enforcement agencies." to legitimately combat terrorism and crime in the modern age. "
NSO was founded by Israeli entrepreneurs and sold to American private equity firm Francisco Partners for $ 130 million in 2014. Today, the company employs approximately 600 people and is estimated at over $ 1 billion.
The secretive company rarely speaks to the media, does not publicly identify its customers, and does not even have a website.
But a person familiar with NSOs said the company had a strict overview of its sales, he said that the company will not do business with 21 countries, including Russia, China and Turkey, as well as many others blocked by the Ministry of Defense.
He also said that NSO has an "ethics committee," which includes human rights experts and former experts include US officials who need to review every sale, saying the committee has had more than a million transactions over the past three years He is blocking $ 100 million, although he refuses to elaborate. He spoke under the condition of anonymity because he discussed in-house information.
The company says it does not support its customers in the actual monitoring process. The person familiar with NSO said the company had taken a number of safety precautions to prevent the misuse of its products. For example, it can limit the countries in which the product will work, and it limits how many people can be addressed by its flagship "Pegasus" product. He estimated that there are no more than 150 to 200 "goals" among all customers worldwide at any one time.
"We do not tolerate misuse of our products and, if there is a suspicion of abuse, we investigate them and take appropriate action, including suspending or terminating a contract," said the NSO statement.
NSO has been in the limelight for months as dissidents, journalists and other oppositionists claimed that the company's technology had been used by repressive governments to spy on them. These include Mexican and Qatari journalists who have already filed lawsuits against the company, and an employee of Amnesty International allegedly attacked by the software.
Any possible use of Israeli technology for police denial in the Arab world could raise uncomfortable questions for Israel, which still sees itself as a bastion of democracy in the region and for countries without formal diplomatic relations with the Jewish state.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu often praises Saudi Arabia as a warming link to the Arab states. Last month, Netanyahu paid a visit to the Gulf state of Oman. He has promised that there will be more announcements soon.
Any Israeli link to khashoggi murder, even indirectly or unintentionally, could complicate Netanyahu's strategy. It could also result in a review of the Ministry of Defense's obscure export policy.
Itay Mack, an Israeli human rights lawyer who is very critical of Israeli arms exports, said the Ministry of Defense was known to lax the lucrative industry's advantage over its competitors.
"What Israel offers are not limitations," he said. He noted that Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte praised, for example, the ease of buying Israeli weapons in September. "It's the same story with spyware," Mack said.
Mack filed an application with an Israeli court last year to stop the use of NSO's technology in Mexico after reports of human rights activists, lawyers and journalists were reportedly being attacked. The court verdict remains under a gag command.
– Associated Press cybersecurity writer Raphael Satter in London and AP writer Areej Hazboun contributed to it.