NSO Group Facing Even More Money Problems As Debt Manager Says Sayonara And State Of Oregon Seeks To Terminate Its Investment
from the [extremely-Seinfeld-gif-voice]-that's-a-shame dept
NSO Group spent years supplying some of the world’s most untrustworthy governments with powerful spyware capable of completely compromising targeted devices. It managed to weather a few years of reports tying its malware to surveillance of journalists and activists, but all hell broke loose earlier this year, resulting in a steady stream of reports linking its tools to surveillance of government officials, journalists, dissidents, government critics, religious leaders, and, in one incredible case, the ex-wife of the king of Dubai.
It couldn’t have come at a worse time for NSO. It has racked up an impressive amount of debt, something it likely assumed it would be able to manage as it continued to grow its market. That growth has stalled but the payments must still be made. NSO was downgraded by ratings firm Moodys, which warned that NSO was in danger of defaulting on its debts.
That, combined with Israel drastically reducing NSO’s customer base and the blacklisting by the US Commerce Department, has resulted in the company considering shutting down its offensive spyware division (the one responsible for developing Pegasus) and putting its remaining assets up for sale.
It might not be that easy to divest, nor find a way back to solvency. Bloomberg reports that one of NSO’s debt managers has decided it’s no longer interested in providing these services to this particularly toxic asset.
Jefferies Financial Group Inc., one of Wall Street’s closest allies of spyware firm NSO Group, is resigning from a key administrative role for the Israeli company’s debt, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.
The investment bank privately notified the company’s lenders on Friday of its intention to step down as administrative agent, a role in which Jefferies handles debt payments for the company and other clerical tasks, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the information is private.
That seems like a pretty strong “no confidence” vote on NSO Group. Whether it’s because Jefferies thinks NSO can’t repay its debt or because of its reputation as the enabler of oppression all over the world was left unsaid.
But that’s not the only demonstration of a lack of confidence. Keeping the malware purveyor at a minimum of arms length appears to be a popular move. A state government a couple of steps removed from NSO is looking to divest itself of its holdings.
Oregon’s treasurer is exploring legal options with the state attorney general in the state’s large investment in a smartphone spyware company — a firm that has been denounced by human rights groups, the U.S. government and tech giants.
In 2017, the Oregon Investment Council unanimously committed $233 million in the state employee retirement fund to a new private equity fund called Novalpina Capital, which later acquired a majority share of NSO Group, an Israeli company that produces smartphone spyware.
This move might be due to NSO’s public image, which currently requires the use of a periscope to peer out of the gutter. But it also might be due to the equity fund’s internal problems, which has led investors — including the state of Oregon — to strip the company of its control of the fund and hand it over to another company entirely.
But this statement from a state official indicates it has more to do with NSO’s current PR problems than Novalpina’s apparent inability to properly manage an equity fund.
Oregon State Treasurer Tobias Read “supports sanctioning global technology companies that facilitate human rights violations and the oppression of journalists by selling technology to authoritarian regimes,” Read’s spokeswoman, Amy Bates, said in a statement Thursday to The Associated Press.
It’s currently unclear whether the state can get out of this without getting sued for breach of contract. But that’s the direction the state would like to go. As for NSO, it continues to claim it’s being unfairly punished for the actions of its customers, stating that it values “ethics over revenues” and only sells malware for the purpose of preventing terrorism and serious crime. But the facts say otherwise. And NSO has long since run out of excuses for its willingness to sell powerful spyware to countries with long histories of human rights violations and abuses of surveillance powers.