Tonight we’ll take you inside the growing, shadowy global market of cyber espionage. We looked specifically at a controversial Israeli company called the NSO Group, valued at nearly a billion dollars, that says it developed a hacking tool that can break into just about any smartphone on Earth.
NSO licenses this software, called Pegasus, to intelligence and law enforcement agencies worldwide, so they can infiltrate the encrypted phones and apps of criminals and terrorists. Problem is this same tool can also be deployed by a government to crush dissent. And so it is that Pegasus has been linked to human rights abuses, unethical surveillance, and even to the notoriously brutal murder of the Saudi Arabian critic Jamal Khashoggi.
Headquartered in the Israeli city of Herzliya, NSO Group operates in strict secrecy. But co-founder and CEO, Shalev Hulio, has been forced out of the shadows and not into a good light, accused of selling Pegasus to Saudi Arabia despite its abysmal record on human rights.
Lesley Stahl: And the word is that you sold Pegasus to them, and then they turned it around to get Khashoggi.
Shalev Hulio: Khashoggi murder is horrible. Really horrible. And therefore, when I first heard there are accusations that our technology been used on Jamal Khashoggi or on his relatives, I started an immediate check about it. And I can tell you very clear, we had nothing to do with this horrible murder.
Lesley Stahl: It’s been reported that you yourself went to Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, you yourself sold Pegasus to the Saudis for $55 million.
Shalev Hulio: Don’t believe newspapers.
Lesley Stahl: Is that a denial? No?
Pegasus is so expensive because it lets authorities do what they long couldn’t: break into smart-phones remotely, making everything in them completely visible. All emails, contacts, and texts – new, old, encrypted or not. Pegasus allows detectives and agents to track locations, listen in to and record conversations, basically turning the phone against its user. Read more