Secretive cyber warfare firm NSO Group explores sale: sources

(Reuters) - NSO Group Ltd, a company that helps governments spy on mobile phones and is so secretive that it regularly changes its name, is exploring a sale that could value it at close to $1 billion, including debt, according to people familiar with the matter.

The move comes as governments around the world, including the United States and China, increase spending on cyber security and warfare, boosting the valuation of technology companies that are active in the sector.

NSO’s owner, private equity firm Francisco Partners Management LLC, has held talks with investment banks in recent days to appoint a financial advisor that will run a sale process for the company, the people said this week.

NSO has annual earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization of around $75 million, the people added.

The sources asked not to be identified because the deliberations are confidential. NSO did not respond to a request for comment, while Francisco Partners declined to comment.

Founded in Israel five years ago by entrepreneurs Omri Lavie and Shalev Hulio, NSO makes software that secretly targets a user’s mobile phone and gathers information, including text messages, photos and internet browning data.

Francisco Partners acquired a majority stake in NSO in a $120 million deal last year. The company has since changed its name several times, most recently calling itself “Q.”

Worldwide spending on information security technology is expected to grow from about $77 billion this year to $108 billion in 2019, thanks to demand from banks, retailers, government agencies and hospitals, according to research firm Gartner.

Reporting by Mike Stone and Greg Roumeliotis in New York; Editing by David Gregorio