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Dark web sells leads to arrest of spyware thief

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A programmer who allegedly tried to sell stolen surveillance tools worth $50m (£38m) on the dark web has been caught and charged in Israel. The software was reportedly stolen from a security firm called NSO Group, known for creating surveillance software. The former NSO developer is believed to have stolen the code after learning he was going to be sacked. Israel’s Justice Ministry said if the sale had gone ahead it could have harmed state security. In a statement, the ministry said the accused was a senior programmer at NSO who had access to the firm’s development systems including its stores of source code.

The ministry said once the programmer had downloaded company code, he posed as a hacker and sought to sell the software on dark web markets. It is claimed that he asked for a payment of $50m to be made in crypto-cash to make it harder to trace. The unidentified individual who agreed to buy the software contacted NSO before the deal went ahead. A sting was set up and the suspected thief was arrested. Daily newspaper Israel Hayom reported that the indictment against the former NSO employee said: “The defendant’s ‎actions seriously jeopardised the NSO Group and ‎could have led to its collapse.”

The programmer has been charged with theft, intent to compromise national security, pursuing an unlicensed defence transaction and disruption of a computer system. A statement released by the defendant’s legal team said its client “never tried to undermine national security”. They added: ‎”We believe the court will get to the truth in this ‎case. We will prove these allegations to be ‎disproportionate and baseless.” NSO ‎Group came to prominence in 2016 after being accused of creating software that can overcome security protections on Apple iPhones. NSO software has also been implicated in a long-running spyware scandal in Mexico. In response, NSO has said it only sells to authorised agencies and has no control over the way its tools are used.

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