US government backs out of sale of NSO Group to L3Harris


NSO Group, notorious makers of the famous Pegasus spyware, has been in acquisition talks with a huge US government defense contractor you’ve never heard of: L3Harris Technologies, Inc.. Doesn’t it make you feel hot and tingly inside?

Pictured is Christopher E. “Call Me Chris” Kubasik, Chairman and CEO of L3Harris. He is no doubt disappointed that the White House put the kibosh on the deal, especially since other elements of government gave their tacit approval (or so we are told).

DevOps Connect: DevSecOps @ RSAC 2022

But is everything as it seems? In today’s SB Blogwatch, we pay attention to the man behind the curtain.

Your humble blogwatcher has curated these blog bits for your entertainment. Not forgetting: WINBOOT.AVI


What is craic? Report by Mark Mazzetti, Ronen Bergman and Susan C. Beachy – “Defense firm says US spies backed its bid for Pegasus Spyware Maker”:

L3Harris and NSO declined to comment.
A team of executives from a US military contractor discreetly… in recent months [attempted] a bold but risky plan: to buy NSO Group, the hacking firm as notorious as it is technologically accomplished. … They started with the uncomfortable fact that the United States government had blacklisted NSO a few months earlier [because it] had acted “contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States,” the Biden administration said.

But five people familiar with the negotiations said the L3Harris team brought with them a startling message: … US intelligence officials, they said, quietly backed his plans to buy NSO, including technology over years has aroused great interest in … the FBI and the CIA [But news of the] talks to buy NSO seemed to blind White House officials, [who] said they were outraged … and that any attempted purchase by American defense companies [NSO Group] would meet with serious resistance.

While not a household defense industry name… L3Harris makes billions every year from US government contracts. … The company has already produced a surveillance system called Stingray.

L3Harris and NSO declined to comment. … A spokeswoman for Avril Haines, the director of national intelligence, declined to comment. … The Commerce Department declined to elaborate on the talks.

One branch of government doesn’t know what another is doing? Say it’s not! Stephanie Kirchgaessner says it’s like this – “US defense firm ends talks to buy NSO”:

Definitive setback
A person familiar with the talks said L3 Harris had reviewed any potential deal for NSO’s technology with its US government customers and had received signals of support from the US intelligence community. [But,] According to sources, L3Harris was caught off guard when a senior White House official expressed strong reservations about any potential deal.

Once L3Harris understood the level of “definitive pushback”, a person familiar with the talks said, “there was an opinion… that there was no way for L3 to move forward with this. … If the government is not aligned, there is no way for L3 to be aligned,” the person said.

What’s the big deal? Duncan Riley drives the point home:

Could have resulted in the lifting of the blacklist
A deal for all or part of NSO wouldn’t be as simple as the two companies agreeing to the terms, requiring clearance from the US and Israeli governments. …NSO Group, with its Pegasus spyware, has been one of the most controversial cybersecurity companies of recent times. Pegasus is a form of software that uses zero-day or unpatched exploits to infect mobile devices.

The failure of the deal may also leave NSO in a difficult situation: with the blacklist in place, the company is limited to who it can sell Pegasus and what technology it can buy. On the other hand, an acquisition by an American company could have led to the lifting of the blacklist.

Expect, What? John Scott Railton holds his horses:

NSO has spent years pretending to have changed
WHOA: Deal…tanked.

[It] helps explain the spyware company’s recent signs of desperation. [An] A US defense contractor buying a patently out of control purveyor of insecurity would be… atrocious for human rights [and] bad for… counterintelligence.

This is not a company that puts America’s national security first. And that doesn’t work well with our technology sector. … NSO spent years pretending to have changed… while using every available trick to hide the fact that it continued to do… risky business with dictators.

ELI5? Look at the lyrics of u/Ozymandias606 you mighty ones and despair:

Biden is going to Israel tomorrow
Pegasus is a hack tool [that] can turn anyone’s phone into a tracking and recording device without the owner clicking a link. [It] has been sold to governments in recent years [who] used Pegasus to spy on journalists and activists.

The Commerce Department has added the creator of Pegasus to a blacklist that is slowly stifling the company. … A US defense contractor then offered to buy Pegasus – and claims to have obtained explicit permission from US intelligence agencies to do so under a number of conditions, [which] include handing over the source code of the software to the “Five Eyes” cybersecurity alliance.

So a handful of Western nations… were trying to control access to a cyber weapon that seems to take over any phone in the world. … Biden is traveling to Israel tomorrow — his first visit to the country.

Are you implying what I think you are implying? This anonymous coward praises the curtain (but is behind on payments): [You’re fired—Ed.]

Unfortunately, many Americans continue to deny what the US government routinely does. … It’s simply Tiktok 2.0 (or Alstrom 3.0).

Anyone who has watched history will recognize that the same pattern has happened many times before, including Alstrom in France. The United States will buy out any company, by force or trickery, that has taken the lead in any area that the United States deems important.

Yet now we have Lockdown Mode. Nothing to worry about, is it? Wrong, says u/NidoKangJr:

Lock mode is nothing. It can’t work. If the software is compromised, let the software be security cannot work. Every Cell Phone Really Should Have 3 mechanical switches and a removable battery. 1 switch for the power supply, 1 for the microphone and 1 for the camera.

And then ? The Battle Desert Penguin—@wolverine_salty— consider alternative buyers:

Is Thiel interested?

Meanwhile, with an equally sarcastic stance, here is kmoser:

So when is Elon Musk going to make them an offer?

And finally:

I’m sad enough to remember version 1.03

[Yes, it’s missing the earlier NT builds.]

Previously in And finally

Have you read SB Blogwatch by Richi Jennings. Richi curates the best blogs, the best forums, and the weirdest websites…so you don’t have to. Hate messages may be directed to @RiCHi Where [email protected]. Ask your doctor before reading. Your mileage may vary. E&OE. 30.

Sauce Image: L3Harris


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