Chairman of Israeli spyware firm NSO says he has stepped down

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The logo of Israeli cyber firm NSO Group is seen at one of its branches in the Arava Desert, southern Israel July 22, 2021. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

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JERUSALEM, Jan 25 (Reuters) - Asher Levy said on Tuesday he had quit as chairman of Israeli spyware firm NSO Group but denied that his departure was linked to lawsuits or media coverage of the international furore that has erupted over the company's Pegasus hacking software.

Levy told Reuters he had left the surveillance firm at the end of 2021 in line with plans made before a series of setbacks the company has suffered.

In November, in a big blow to the firm's export prospects, the U.S. Commerce Department blacklisted NSO, saying it sold spyware to foreign governments which then used the equipment to target government officials, journalists and others. read more

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Apple (AAPL.O) has also sued NSO, saying it had violated U.S. laws by breaking into the software installed on iPhones. read more .

NSO has additionally faced either legal action or criticism from Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O), Facebook parent Meta Platforms Inc (FB.O), Google parent Alphabet Inc (GOOGL.O) and Cisco Systems Inc (CSCO.O).

Last week Israel's attorney general ordered an investigation into police surveillance tactics amid reports that Pegasus had been improperly used domestically. read more

Levy took over as chairman in April 2020 as an appointee of UK-based private equity firm Novalpina Capital, which had bought NSO in 2019. Berkeley Research Group (BRG) took over management of Novalpina, and effectively of NSO, in July 2021.

"As soon as BRG joined the company, I called them and I said 'I suggest that you nominate somebody on your behalf, and I would like to finish my term with the company'," Levy said. "I did what I think is normal practice in this type of situation." The new chairman of NSO is Finbarr O'Connor, the managing director of BRG Asset Management, NSO said.

Levy said he had been involved with NSO at a "lower level" from August to December 2021, adding that he remained "full of appreciation to NSO, the life-saving technology it develops... and the unprecedented ethical policies the company has adopted".

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Reporting by Steven Scheer Editing by Stephen Farrell and Gareth Jones

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