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Founders of hacking firm linked to Michael Flynn turn to cyber defense

Founders of hacking firm linked to Michael Flynn turn to cyber defense
[(Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images]

The founders behind NSO Group, an Israeli company that makes “lawful intercept” tools used by governments to spy on terrorists and criminals—but also, as I reported yesterday, civilians in multiple countries—are doubling down not on attacking devices but defending them.

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In early November, NSO Group cofounder Omri Lavie told the Reuters Cyber Summit that he and investment partner Issac Zack were raising funds for Orchestra, a company that will aim to simplify cyber security.

This comes only months after Francisco Partners, the private equity firm that owns NSO Group, failed to sell part of the company to the New York-based Blackstone Group, at a reported valuation of $1 billion.. The collapse of the deal came amid reports this summer by The New York Times and digital rights group Citizen Lab about how Pegasus had been used to attack dozens of civilians, dissidents, and lawyers in Mexico, the United Arab Emirates, and elsewhere. (Apple and Google promptly issued updates to defend against NSO’s spyware, but that doesn’t guarantee that every phone is protected.)

The company has also earned controversy for its links to former White House national security adviser Lt. General Michael Flynn: in 2016, Flynn’s various consulting gigs included work for Francisco Partners and for an NSO Group offshoot, OSY Technologies. Flynn, who pled guilty on Friday to lying to the FBI about his conversations with the Russian government, was paid a total of about $140,000 for his work, which he provided while he was working with the Trump campaign. (NSO and Francisco did not respond to requests for comment.)

Per a June report in The New York Times:

In a statement, NSO said it “only develops the software, and is not involved in any way, shape or form in operating the system.”

Steve Eisner, the general counsel of Francisco Partners, suggested that Mr. Flynn had served the company in a relatively limited advisory role.

“We routinely engage consultants to help us understand industries that we are investing in,” Mr. Eisner said. Mr. Flynn was paid a little more than $40,000 by OSY, and “less than $100,000” by Francisco, Mr. Eisner said.

Pegasus (Chrysora) spyware installs, according to an April report by Google and Lookout

Orchestra will launch in 2018, with offices in Tel Aviv and on the East Coast of the United States, Lavie and Zack said. It is being financed by their investment firm Founders Group, whose CEO is Shalev Hulio, another NSO Group cofounder.

Read more about NSO in my story, “The Billion-Dollar Company Helping Governments Hack Our Phones.” 

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