Israeli hacking firm's founders to move into cyber defence

FRANKFURT/TEL AVIV (Reuters) - Israeli entrepreneurs with a track record of developing computer hacking weapons for law enforcement agencies fighting online crime, are now looking to set up a new business to defend computer systems against attacks, they said on Thursday.

A man holds a laptop computer as cyber code is projected on him in this illustration picture taken on May 13, 2017. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Illustration/File Photo

Omri Lavie, a co-founder of cyber surveillance firm NSO Group, and investment partner Issac Zack, told the Reuters Cyber Summit they were working to fund a new cyber security company whose prime selling point is likely to be simplicity in view of the many different tools normally required to defend a network.

Computer attackers are widely seen as having the upper hand over defence because new methods of attack are usually cheaper and easier to invent than trying to maintain a foolproof defence, they said.

The new company, to be known as Orchestra, will be headed by Lavie as its chief executive and focus on the aggregation and orchestration of a variety of defensive cyber tools, he said.

Lavie said that cyber defenders need simpler ways of securing networks, rather than an endless series of new technology options or grandiose paradigm shifts in thinking in order to outwit attackers.

“The biggest thing we are focused on is that we believe there is a little too much going on,” he told Reuters.

“The situation (the industry) has right now is that we have a multitude of companies, each of them solving a very small and niche problem for (overwhelmed) security staff,” he said.

Orchestra has been in the works for a year and will launch early in 2018, subject to the closing of a new funding round, Lavie and Zack told Reuters in a joint interview. Orchestra is funded by their investment firm called the Founders Group, in which they are joined by Shalev Hulio, another co-founder of NSO Group, who remains its chief executive.

The firm will have several offices including in Tel Aviv and in the eastern United States. Lavie declined to comment on whether he will continue to work with NSO, where he has helped run North American sales and marketing since 2015.

NSO is one of the world’s better known suppliers of mobile surveillance tools to governments and law enforcement agencies. But they have been criticised by online privacy activists who have accused the company of creating spyware used to target rights groups and reporters in Mexico and nations ranging from Uzbekistan to Bahrain and Kenya.

NSO has declined to comment on these reports, while Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto has described the accusations against NSO as false.

Lavie said of the reports, “I think people believe that NSO is a company that does good. (Security experts) understand the value that this company has generated for the world. I am extremely proud of NSO”.


Orchestra will enter a crowded market for what is known in the industry as Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) tools, which aggregate data from across computer networks to allow an organisation’s security staff to keep tabs on their users, devices and systems and the looming threats these may face.

Existing players include AlienVault, Fortinet FTNT.O, LogRhythm, Micro Focus MCRO.L, Splunk SPLK.O and Trustwave.

The Founders Group has invested around $30 million over four to five years, using mostly the partners’ own money, in mostly seed or early-stage funding rounds for a mix of cyber security, fintech and other start-ups, Lavie and Zach said.

Orchestra will be an operating company that creates its own products but which also taps into technologies which Founders Group have been funding in recent years, the partners said.

“We are going to be developing ourselves a lot of the platform. We are also going to be merging a lot of technologies we currently own a part of or intend to own a part of,” Lavie said of the overlap between Orchestra and Founders Group.

He said it was premature to spell out specific technology features which Orchestra would include on its platform, saying these would be announced once the company launches in 2018.

“Unlike start-ups that really start from scratch, we already have a menagerie of companies which we believe will function better, together,” Lavie said.

(The story has been refiled to make clear Hulio is indirect investor in Orchestra in paragraph 8)

Additional reporting by Steven Scheer in Tel Aviv; Editing by Greg Mahlich