‘We violated people’s privacy for a living’: How Israel’s cyber army went corporate

Israeli soldiers of the operational unit 8200 training in the field, Sep 11, 2012. (credit: Moshe Shai / Flash90)
The blurred line between the military and private sector in Israel has allowed dangerous cyber weapons like NSO’s spyware to flourish worldwide.

By Sophia Goodfriend | +972 Magazine | Nov 23, 2021

…these are not simply private companies conducting business abroad: they are deeply connected to the Israeli military establishment, and their products are central to Israel’s own surveillance arsenal.

At a security conference and exposition called “iHLS Innotech” held in Tel Aviv last week, five Israeli cyber experts spoke at a roundtable titled “Ethics of the Sale of Cyber and Intelligence Tools at the Offensive Realm.” The panelists, all men hailing from lengthy careers in the military and private sector, joked that the conversation would be so difficult that it warranted a bottle of scotch whiskey at 10:45 a.m.

As the scotch made a number of rounds on the stage, some of the panelists spoke about promoting stricter initiatives to regulate the sale of cyber weapons and technologies, such as barring veterans of army intelligence units who have used these technologies from working for offensive cyberespionage firms. But the consensus among the panelists was that companies would most likely continue selling their services with the blessing of Israeli export law.

“I want to say that, that as a private individual, I want my government to spy on people, even on me,” said Guy Mizrahi, the panel’s chair and an ex-Vice President of Rayzone Group, an intelligence firm which came under fire in late 2020 for facilitating mass surveillance abroad. “I think other countries should have those capabilities also, and not all of them can develop them on their own.”

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