The coronavirus crisis could highlight the overlap between the surveillance state and the cryptocurrency industry.
Does the NSO Group have links with the crypto industry?
Israeli technology company NSO Group, known for selling spyware in Saudi Arabia and other countries, is working on a new product to monitor the spread of coronavirus.
Nearly a dozen countries are testing the software, Bloomberg reported. The surveillance technology of the NSO Group has often attracted widespread criticism from privacy technologists in the cryptocurrency sector and beyond - for hidden access in phones, the unconscious activation of cameras and the collection of location data.
However, the leaders of the Israeli company have significant ties to the blockchain industry. Several founders and investors of the NSO Group are also engaged in financing towards blockchain companies.
For example, co-founders Omri Lavie and Shalev Hulio have invested in the bitcoin startup Simplex, while the investor of the NSO group Eddy Shalev has invested in the Portis non-custodian startup wallet, in the eToro exchange platform and in the QEDIT privacy startup. According to Eddy Shalev's LinkedIn account, he is still on the board of directors of the bitcoin mining company Spondoolies Tech.
"Much of what's going on inside the crypto space is recreating what has already happened with traditional finance," said Jonathan Rouach, CEO of QEDIT. And speaking of Eddy Shalev, he said "He was one of the first to recognize that banks will be interested in the same blockchain technology, but perhaps not in public consensus mechanisms."
Another source familiar with QEDIT's operations said that the startup is not involved in the NSO Group's coronavirus monitoring app. Although it's unclear how these investors interact personally with the bitcoin (BTC) market, a former employee of the NSO Group allegedly attempted to sell stolen cryptocurrency software worth $ 50 million in 2018.
The privacy of the crypto sector is always under attack
Many bitcoiners imagine that the crux of their trade lies in the division between government agencies and cypherpunks. As a company that makes software tools for intelligence agencies, the NSO Group shows that there may be a significant overlap between the two worlds.
Nor is the NSO Group the first case where this overlap is observed. In 2019 Coinbase aroused curiosity throughout the sector when it acquired Neutrino, founded by three former members of a controversial Italian surveillance company called the Hacking Team.
To allay the rumors, the San Francisco-based cryptocurrency exchange said those members would "leave Coinbase", but since then there has been no confirmation that this really happened. Coinbase did not respond to requests for comment that it still employs former Team Hacking members.