The hacker-for-hire industry is now too big to fail

Hackers for hire - Ariel Davis

The hacker-for-hire industry is now too big to fail
MIT Technology Review, December 28, 2021
by Patrick Howell O’Neill

“This is a big moment of turbulence and change for the hacking business. But the demand is here to stay.”


A shock has reverberated inside Israel in the last few months. NSO Group, the billion-dollar Israeli company that has sold hacking tools to governments around the world for more than a decade, has drawn intense scrutiny after a series of public scandals. The company is in crisis. Its future is in doubt.


But while NSO Group’s future is uncertain, governments are more likely than ever to buy cyber capabilities from the industry NSO helped define. Business is booming for “hackers for hire” firms. In the last decade, the industry has grown from a novelty into a key instrument of power for nations around the world. Even the potential failure of a major firm like NSO Group isn’t likely to slow the growth.


Just this month, Facebook reported that seven hacker-for-hire firms from around the world had targeted around 50,000 people on the company’s platforms. The report spotlighted four more Israeli companies alongside operations from China, India, and North Macedonia. The fact that the investigation didn’t even mention NSO Group shows that the industry and its targeting are far more vast than what the public can typically see.

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About the Author:

Patrick Howell O’Neill is the cybersecurity senior editor for MIT Technology Review. He covers national security, election security and integrity, geopolitics, and personal security: How is cyber changing the world? Before joining the publication, he worked at the Aspen Institute and CyberScoop covering cybersecurity from Silicon Valley and Washington DC.