NSO Allegedly Offered 'Bags of Cash' for Access to US Cell Network

Colin Thierry
Colin Thierry Writer
Colin Thierry Colin Thierry Writer

NSO Group allegedly offered “bags of cash” in return for access to cell networks in the United States to track people through their mobile devices, according to a whistleblower’s complaint to the US Department of Justice (DoJ).

The claims made by Gary Miller were published on Tuesday by the Pegasus Project consortium, along with other major news providers including The Washington Post and The Guardian.

Miller’s statements were supported by documents he provided to the DoJ proving the existence of an August 2017 meeting between NSO and Mobileum, where Miller worked in a senior position.

“[NSO] stated explicitly that their product was designed for surveillance,” Miller said in an interview with The Guardian. “They stated multiple times that their work was authorized by government agencies.”

As the meeting went on, Miller alleged that in response to a Mobileum official asking about NSO’s “business model,” NSO official Omri Lavie replied, “we drop bags of cash at your office.”

Miller’s allegations were first disclosed to federal authorities and to US congressman Ted Lieu, who said he conducted his own investigation into the claim and found it to be “highly disturbing,” according to reports by The Guardian.

“The privacy implications to Americans and national security implications to America of NSO Group accessing mobile operator signaling networks are vast and alarming,” Lieu wrote in a letter to the DoJ.

NSO urged that it had no business dealings with the US mobile security company.

What Is Pegasus?

The tech firm’s controversial Pegasus software exploits security vulnerabilities in cellular operating systems in order to retrieve a device’s contents. This ranges from messages to photos, call history, and location data.

NSO previously said it is unaware of how its clients use its spyware, and that it was only meant to target serious criminals.

In January, Israel’s parliament looked into the reported use of NSO’s Pegasus spyware against citizens by the Israeli police. According to a report from Israeli newspaper Calcalist, police had Pegasus spyware in their possession since 2013.

In December, a group of US lawmakers urged the Treasury Department and State Department to sanction NSO along with three other foreign surveillance companies they say helped authoritarian governments commit human rights abuses.

In November, tech giant Apple sued NSO, saying that the Israeli company violated US laws by breaking into the software installed on iPhones.

Additionally, NSO has faced either legal action or criticism from Microsoft, Facebook company Meta Platforms, Google parent company Alphabet Inc, and Cisco Systems Inc.

About the Author

About the Author

Colin Thierry is a former cybersecurity researcher and journalist for SafetyDetectives who has written a wide variety of content for the web over the past 2 years. In his free time, he enjoys spending time outdoors, traveling, watching sports, and playing video games.