The Blackstone Group, a multinational investment firm based in New York City, is in advanced negotiations to buy a 40 percent share in NSO Group, an Israeli cyber firm specializing in the development of programs that can gather personal details from cell phones, according to Israel's Calcalist business newspaper.
The sale reportedly may go through for US$400 million, but an NSO Group spokesperson declined to comment on exact figures.
NSO Group was founded in 2009 by Omri Lavie and Shaley Hulio and is now owned by San Francisco-based private equity firm Francisco Partners Management LLC. The company has since become a world leader in cyber infiltration and has been used against activists and dissidents by the United Arab Emirates, Mexico and likely Turkey, Israel, Kenya, Saudi Arabia, Hungary and others.
Among NSO's feats at subverting one's privacy is its ability to exploit Apple vulnerabilities to disguise itself as Gmail, Facebook, WhatsApp, Skype, the Red Cross, CNN, Al Jazeera, and the Pokemon Company to create false links. Once the user clicks on the link, the company can read messages, record sounds, track locations, and collect passwords.
The firm wrote in the New York Times, “The company sells only to authorized governmental agencies, and fully complies with strict export control laws and regulations.”
The spokesperson said that its customers use its software lawfully. However, Bill Marczak, a researcher at Citizen Lab did not concur. He said that the targeting of activists and dissidents “is a taste of what's to come,” adding that “what they're facing today will be faced by ordinary users tomorrow.”
As the largest alternative investment firm in the world, Blackstone Group specializes in private equity, credit and hedge fund investment strategies. Its private equity business has been one of the largest investors in leveraged buyout transactions over the last decade.