Bibi Netanyahu at a Cybertech conference freely boasted that Israel’s “NSA, called unit 8200” is the second largest in the world and is the Second Eye of the Five Eyes.” That’s a rather astonishing claim for a nation with only 8.7 million people.
Netanyahu goes on explain that all the major I.T. companies have major research centers in Israel. This includes virtually all of the heavy handed social media censorship venues.
At minute 00:04:53 in the next video, he goes on to describe why this is happening — namely, because they have a defense industry; and, specifically, military intelligence [at 00:12:12] used to leverage these I.T. industries. Accordingly, Israel is now No. 2 in the “cyber security industry,” which is a defacto intel operation that’s publicly funded and privately operated.
One answer to the question of “why” is because the development of cyber skills is a state priority for Israel. Most Israeli cyber-security firms recruit former intelligence officers, mainly from a military unit called 8200 — considered the largest unit in the Israeli Defense Forces.
Many founders of these cyber security companies — like Argus, Check Point and Cyber Ark — spent their compulsory three-year military service in the elite Unit 8200. This secret intelligence body that operates hacker groups is rumored — among other things — to have been behind the Stuxnet attack on Iran’s nuclear research infrastructure in June 2010.
“It’s important to understand that soldiers serving in intelligence units are gaining extremely practical training,” says Amitai Ziv, senior high-tech editor at the Israeli newspaper The Marker. “Starting from day one after their training, they are tasked with real systems to break into across the globe.”
Abuse of Technology Meshed with Intelligence
One of these larger outfits is NSO Group, founded in 2010. It supplies industry-leading surveillance software to governments. NSO says its software is for tackling terrorism and serious crime. What it’s actually used for could be anybody’s guess. The software has been licensed to dozens of countries, including Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Bahrain and the UAE.
Last week, the Facebook-owned tech firm WhatsApp announced that it had to patch a security hole in its messaging service, which it believed had been exploited by Israel based NSO Group. The security flaw would have allowed spyware to be placed on a person’s mobile phone simply via a missed WhatsApp call.
Hackers accessed data from 29 million Facebook accounts as part of the security breach. The hackers accessed the names, email addresses and phone numbers of 29 million accounts. From 14 million of those hacked accounted, additional data was obtained, such as hometown, date of birth, the last 10 places they checked into and the last 15 searches.
The link was part of “a network of digital infrastructure comprising more than 600 suspicious domains used to lure targeted individuals to click on links that trigger infection with Pegasus spyware.”
NSO has not denied the reports. Instead, it blamed others, stating that it “would not or could not use its technology in its own right to target any person or organization.”
In 2017, Mexican journalists were targeted by NSO intrusion software.
The abuse of WhatsApp’s loophole is just the latest of many that are being blamed on Israeli cyber spying companies.
An investigation by Ziv put in the spotlight Israeli cyber company Candiru. The secretive firm has changed its name three times since 2014. It has no website. None of its estimated 120 employees have a LinkedIn profile, and its phone number cannot be found in directories.
Candiru offers its clients — strictly international, mainly from Europe — a thorough and complete cyber system that customers can use to see exactly how many targets have been penetrated by their hacks and what information has been exploited.
Another company named Logic, owned by Israeli businessman Mati Kochavi, signed a deal with an unknown Gulf state to implement border protection technologies and turn its capital into a “smart city.” Among other things, the system could trace the real-time movement of people throughout the capital.
Vice News ran a story that looked into the Israeli cyber intrusion industry, which can viewed here.