Stanbic Bank
Stanbic Bank
Stanbic Bank
Stanbic Bank
23.7 C
Stanbic Bank
Stanbic Bank
Stanbic Bank
Stanbic Bank

US DIPLOMATS HACKING SCANDAL: The secret Uganda deal that has brought NSO to the brink of collapse

Must read



The Financial Times has reported that the Israeli spyware maker Pegasus is facing sanctions by the United States over its alleged hacking of phones for their Kampala Diplomats.

About two months ago, it emerged that phones of 10 US Diplomats at their Kampala mission got hacked by Pegasus.

Below is the full Financial Times story

In February 2019, an Israeli woman sat across from the son of Uganda’s president, and made an audacious pitch — would he want to secretly hack any phone in the world? Lt General Muhoozi Kainerugaba, in charge of his father’s security and a long-whispered successor to Yoweri Museveni, was keen, said two people familiar with the sales pitch. After all, the woman, who had ties to Israeli intelligence, was pitching him Pegasus, a piece of spyware so powerful that Middle East dictators and autocratic regimes had been paying tens of millions for it for years.

But for NSO, the Israeli company that created Pegasus, this dalliance into east Africa would prove to be the moment it crossed a red line, infuriating US diplomats and triggering a chain of events that would see it blacklisted by the commerce department, pursued by Apple, and driven to the verge of defaulting on its loans, according to interviews with US and Israeli officials, industry insiders and NSO employees. A few months after the initial approach, NSO’s chief executive, Shalev Hulio, landed in Uganda to seal the deal, according to two people familiar with NSO’s east Africa business. Hulio, who flew the world with the permission of the Israeli government to sell Pegasus, liked to demonstrate in real time how it could hack a brand new, boxed, iPhone. The eventual business was small for NSO.

A person familiar with the transaction said it brought in between $10m and $20m, a fraction of the $243m that Moody’s estimated the privately owned NSO made in revenues in 2020. But about two years after the sales pitch, someone deployed Pegasus to try to hack the phones of 11 American diplomats and employees of the US embassy in Uganda, according to two US officials, who spoke after notifications were sent out by Apple when the iPhone maker discovered and closed a flaw in its operating system in November. It is not clear who tried to hack the US citizens.

Uganda’s neighbour, Rwanda, had also been using Pegasus to hack phones inside Uganda, but the revelation shocked the US. NSO has always told its customers that US phone numbers are off-limits. In this case, all 11 targets were using Ugandan numbers, but had Apple logins using their state department emails, according to the two US officials. NSO said it shut down the hacking systems for “customers relevant to this case” and is investigating the issue. A person familiar with the company said it no longer has any business in Africa. The presidential press secretary for Museveni and the minister of information for the Ugandan government did not reply to a request for comment. A person close to Museveni said they “were not authorised to speak on the subject”.

Israeli and US officials declined to confirm that the Ugandan hack directly triggered a decision to blacklist NSO. But one US official who discussed the issue with Israel’s defence ministry said: “Look at the entire sequence of events here — this is careful, not by chance.” He added that putting NSO, one of the jewels of Israel’s tech community, on a US blacklist was designed to “punish and isolate” the company. The blacklisting, which came in November, means that NSO cannot buy any equipment, service or intellectual property from US-based companies without approval, crippling a company whose terminals ran on servers from Dell and Intel, routers from Cisco, and whose desktop computers run on Windows operating systems, according to a spec sheet from a sale to Ghana, in West Africa. In recent weeks, for instance, Intel asked all its employees to cease any ongoing business relationships with NSO, one person familiar with the matter said. Intel said in a statement that it “complies with all applicable US laws, including US export control regulations”.

A new CEO, Itzik Benbenisti, hired from Partner Communications, one of Israel’s largest telecom providers, quit two weeks into his new job after the blacklisting. And while the company tried to cheer up its employees with a Hannukah party in the beach resort of Eilat, Hulio — who retook the reins after Benbenisti stepped down — was less sanguine in a recent phone call with an old business associate. “We always knew this thing had an expiration date,” he told the friend, complaining that some clients had asked to shift their contracts to lesser-known rivals, according to a person familiar with the conversation. After spending a decade in the favour of the Israeli government, NSO now finds itself as an irritant in relations between Israel and the US, using up vital foreign “policy bandwidth we need to talk about Iran”, said a foreign ministry official who asked for anonymity.

That is a reversal for NSO, which former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu used as a diplomatic calling card with several countries, including the UAE, Morocco, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, which did not have official relations with Israel. The reputational damage has also made it difficult to keep hiring the most promising graduates of Israel’s elite signals intelligence units, who have the skills to repeatedly outwit the defences of both Android phones and iPhones. For example, when Google reverse-engineered the hack used against American diplomats in Uganda, they found an elegant, tiny piece of code that adapted software from 1990s Xerox machines to fit a so-called Turing machine — essentially a complete computer — into a single GIF file. “Pretty incredible, and at the same time, pretty terrifying,” said Google’s engineers. “Wow. Just wow,” tweeted Yaniv Erlich, an Israeli professor of computer science at Columbia University. “You can count on one hand the number of teams in the world that could create something like that,” said John Scott-Railton, a senior researcher at the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, which found the malware and brought it to Apple’s attention.

NSO said it had hired 30 new employees in recent weeks. “There is an understanding among our employees that there is a wide gap between media reports and the reality,” a spokesperson said. Meanwhile, NSO has also fallen into the crosshairs of Silicon Valley, after angering Apple and Meta by hacking into iPhones and WhatsApp. Apple’s two-pronged approach — it has notified many of the targets of NSO’s hacks, while suing the company in US courts — sent a “shockwave” through the industry, said a person familiar with the matter. Apple and Citizen Lab have also shared NSO’s technical secrets, worrying rival companies enough to ask their clients to dial down the use of other spyware, scared of getting caught in Apple’s dragnet, said a former senior executive at an Israeli tech group. “There is a sense that this is a full-on war against the entire industry,” he said, adding that high-level Israeli employees of NSO and other similar firms are “staying put” in Israel to avoid being pulled in for questioning in the US and its allies.

But Liron Bruck, NSO’s spokesperson, said she had personally visited the US twice in recent weeks with other senior executives and that NSO’s travel plans remain “unchanged”. For now, the US pressure had left NSO with few options, said company insiders. Moody’s has downgraded NSO’s debt as the company’s free cash flow turned negative in 2020 and is expected to remain negative this year. “There’s a high risk NSO might not be in compliance” with a covenant on the $500m in loans it took in 2019 to go private at a $1bn valuation, said Moody’s.

It has hired Moelis & Co, a NY-based investment bank to see if it can sell off parts of the company to raise cash, even offering to change Pegasus into a “defensive” product if that makes it more palatable to US investors. Last Wednesday, that window also narrowed — 18 US senators wrote to secretary of state Antony Blinken and Treasury secretary Janet Yellen to sanction NSO under the Magnitsky Act, alongside a handful of other cyber surveillance firms. If the US acts upon that request, NSO would be cut off from the US banking system and its employees would be barred from travelling to the US.

- Advertisement -

More articles


  1. Greetings I aam so delighted I found your wweb site, I really found you bby accident, whil I was researfhing oon Biing for sopmething else, Anywayys I am hesre noow and woulod just likke to
    ssay kjdos forr a remarkablee post and a all round enjoyable blog (I aloso love the theme/design), I don’t hhave time to look over itt alll at thee moent butt I hwve saved it and also added in your RSS feeds, sso when Ihavee time I will be
    baqck tto read muuch more, Pleease do keep up thhe fantatic

  2. Greetings I am so grateful I found your web site, I really found you by mistake, while I was researching on Bing for something
    else, Nonetheless I am here now and would just like to say
    many thanks for a marvelous post and a all round exciting blog
    (I also love the theme/design), I don’t have time to read through it
    all at the minute but I have saved it and also included your RSS feeds, so when I have time I will be back to
    read much more, Please do keep up the excellent job.

    Visit my blog; Binary Options

  3. Hey, I think your site might be having browser compatibility issues.
    When I look at your blog in Ie, it looks fine but when opening in Internet
    Explorer, it has some overlapping. I just wanted to give you a quick heads up!
    Other then that, fantastic blog!

  4. Экспресс-строения здания: финансовая выгода в каждой части!
    В современной реальности, где секунды – доллары, объекты быстрого возвода стали реальным спасением для компаний. Эти новейшие строения сочетают в себе высокую прочность, финансовую выгоду и скорость монтажа, что позволяет им превосходным выбором для различных коммерческих проектов.
    [url=]Быстровозводимые каркасные здания из металлоконструкций[/url]
    1. Быстрота монтажа: Минуты – важнейший фактор в коммерческой деятельности, и экспресс-сооружения позволяют существенно сократить сроки строительства. Это высоко оценивается в моменты, когда важно быстро начать вести бизнес и начать зарабатывать.
    2. Экономия средств: За счет улучшения производственных процедур элементов и сборки на объекте, стоимость быстровозводимых зданий часто бывает менее, по сопоставлению с традиционными строительными задачами. Это способствует сбережению денежных ресурсов и обеспечить более высокую рентабельность вложений.
    Подробнее на [url=][/url]
    В заключение, быстровозводимые здания – это оптимальное решение для бизнес-мероприятий. Они сочетают в себе эффективное строительство, финансовую выгоду и долговечность, что сделало их оптимальным решением для предпринимателей, активно нацеленных на скорый старт бизнеса и получать деньги. Не упустите возможность сократить затраты и время, идеальные сооружения быстрого монтажа для ваших будущих проектов!

  5. Hi there outstanding blog! Does running a blog such as
    this require a large amount of work? I’ve virtually no
    knowledge of programming however I was hoping to start my own blog in the near future.
    Anyways, should you have any recommendations or tips
    for new blog owners please share. I know this is off topic but I just needed to ask.
    Appreciate it!

    Here is my homepage; binary options

  6. I’m curious to find out what blog platform you are using?
    I’m experiencing some small security problems
    with my latest blog and I’d like to find something more risk-free.
    Do you have any suggestions?

  7. It’s perfect time to make some plans for the long run and it’s time to be happy.

    I’ve learn this submit and if I could I desire to recommend you some
    fascinating things or advice. Perhaps you can write subsequent
    articles regarding this article. I want to learn more things about it!

    My blog: binary options

  8. Howdy, I do think your site might be having browser compatibility issues.
    When I take a look at your site in Safari, it looks fine however,
    if opening in IE, it has some overlapping issues. I simply wanted
    to give you a quick heads up! Aside from that, great website!

    Also visit my blog – binary Options

  9. Наша команда профессиональных исполнителей подготовлена предъявить вам актуальные системы утепления, которые не только обеспечивают надежную безопасность от зимы, но и подарят вашему жилью стильный вид.
    Мы занимаемся с последовательными веществами, подтверждая продолжительный срок службы и отличные эффекты. Утепление наружных стен – это не только экономия на тепле, но и забота о окружающей среде. Спасательные разработки, какие мы претворяем в жизнь, способствуют не только зданию, но и поддержанию экосистемы.
    Самое центральное: [url=]Утепление загородного дома снаружи цены[/url] у нас открывается всего от 1250 рублей за квадратный метр! Это бюджетное решение, которое сделает ваш домик в реальный душевный корнер с скромными затратами.
    Наши произведения – это не только теплоизоляция, это формирование площади, в где каждый элемент отражает ваш свой стиль. Мы возьмем во внимание все ваши просьбы, чтобы осуществить ваш дом еще более удобным и привлекательным.
    Подробнее на [url=][/url]
    Не откладывайте заботу о своем доме на потом! Обращайтесь к мастерам, и мы сделаем ваш жилище не только теплым, но и моднее. Заинтересовались? Подробнее о наших предложениях вы можете узнать на официальном сайте. Добро пожаловать в пределы благополучия и уровня.

  10. Hello, I believe your web site could possibly be having web browser compatibility issues.
    When I take a look at your site in Safari, it looks fine however,
    when opening in IE, it has some overlapping issues. I merely wanted to provide you
    with a quick heads up! Besides that, wonderful site!

    Feel free to visit my blog post Binary Options

  11. certainly like your web-site but you have to test the spelling on several of your posts.
    Many of them are rife with spelling problems and I in finding it
    very troublesome to tell the truth however I will
    certainly come back again.

  12. Do you mind if I quote a couple of your articles as long as I provide credit
    and sources back to your blog? My blog site is in the very same area of interest as
    yours and my users would really benefit from a
    lot of the information you present here. Please let me know if this ok with you.

    Thank you!

  13. Heya! I just wanted to ask if you ever have any problems with hackers?
    My last blog (wordpress) was hacked and I ended up losing
    a few months of hard work due to no backup. Do you have any methods to stop hackers?

  14. After checking out a few of the articles on your website, I really appreciate your
    technique of writing a blog. I saved it to my bookmark webpage list and will be checking back soon. Please check out my
    web site as well and let me know your opinion.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

- Advertisement -

Latest article

- Advertisement -