Fact Sheet: the Israeli Cyber Industry
“Occupied Palestine effectively functions as an open-air laboratory for Israel to test techniques of espionage and surveillance before selling them to repressive regimes around the world.” –Middle East Institute
“Israel’s use of surveillance and facial recognition appear to be among the most elaborate deployments of such technology by a country seeking to control a subject population.” –AccessNow
The structures of Israeli settler colonialism, military occupation, and apartheid have enabled Israel to build one of the largest cyber industries in the world. By exporting technologies such as Pegasus spyware, the Israeli government and private Israeli companies exporting the Palestinian experience of mass surveillance and state violence under apartheid, thereby profiting off of escalating threats against human rights defenders, journalists, and political opponents around the world.
Palestinian civil society is calling for a ban on the trade of cyber surveillance technology, including not only Pegasus spyware but also remote biometric technologies that enable mass surveillance.
Visualizing Palestine produced this factsheet to accompany the visual “The Pegasus Effect: The Global Impact of Israeli Surveillance Technology,” created in partnership with Al Haq, Bisan Center, and Mind the Gap Consortium.
ISRAEL’S CYBER INDUSTRY
- Israel headquarters more surveillance companies per capita than any other country.
- Israeli cyber firms claimed 31% of global investment in the cyber sector in 2020.
- Israeli cyber companies export both offensive and defensive cyber technologies, profiting off of supplying the most sophisticated threats as well as the reaction to these threats.
- In 2020, Israel’s total military exports were valued at $8.8 billion, while its cyber exports were valued at $10 billion.
- The Israeli government engages in “spyware diplomacy,” supplying offensive cyber tech as a bargaining chip to promote normalization in countries like Bahrain, the UAE, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia.
- Unit 8200, the Israeli intelligence unit responsible for Israeli cyber offense, is the largest unit of the Israeli military.
- Unit 8200 functions as an incubator for private Israeli cyber companies and tech entrepreneurs, with its veterans founding over 1,000 companies.
- Of 2,300 Israelis who founded 700 Israeli cyber firms, 80% were graduates of Unit 8200. These founders use their military experience and connections as a marketing tool for foreign investors.
- Information gathered by Unit 8200 “is used for political persecution and to create divisions within Palestinian society.”
There is a revolving door between Israeli academic institutions, the Israeli military, and Israeli cyber companies:
- Six Israeli universities have centers dedicated to cyber research.
- Israeli universities carry out military research directed by the Israeli Ministry of Defense’s Directorate for Defense R&D (DDR&D) and military companies.
- Israeli universities cater programs to the Israeli military and military intelligence corps, including the Academic Reserves (Atuda), Talpiot programs, and Havatzalot Program.
MASS SURVEILLANCE OF PALESTINIANS
Israel’s widespread use of mass surveillance and targeted spyware upholds its regime of apartheid and its systemic denial of numerous fundamental rights: privacy, freedom of movement, freedom from discrimination, freedom of expression and association, due process, and more.
- Mass surveillance affords Israel unchecked power to collect information on Palestinians, who are tried in military courts with nearly a 100% conviction rate, often based on “secret evidence.”
- Israeli soldiers photograph Palestinians at checkpoints to build a population-wide database to power Blue Wolf, a smartphone-based facial recognition program.
- Israel uses networks of CCTV cameras, equipped with biometric capabilities, to monitor Palestinians in real time in cities like Jerusalem, Hebron, and throughout the West Bank.
- Israel is capable of monitoring and listening in on any phone call in the West Bank and Gaza.
- Palestinian human rights defenders working for organizations that are under attack by the Israeli government have been targeted by Pegasus spyware, currently the most sophisticated offensive cyber weapon.
- “The Palestinian population under military rule is completely exposed to espionage and surveillance by Israeli intelligence.” — Unit 8200 reservists
NSO GROUP AND PEGASUS SPYWARE
- NSO Group, an Israeli cyber company founded in 2010, is the maker of Pegasus spyware.
- Pegaus is capable of zero click infections, meaning the spyware can gain full access to a target’s smartphone or device and download all data without the user clicking a malware link.
- NSO Group has sold Pegasus to regimes engaged in grave human rights abuses.
- Every sale of Pegasus is approved by the Israeli government’s Defense Exports Control Agency, which does not disclose information about export approvals even to the Israeli Knesset.
- Researchers and journalists have confirmed the extensive use of Pegasus to target journalists, human rights defenders, and politicians, and have found evidence of the spyware being operated in at least 45 countries.
- 50,000 phone numbers, including those of human rights defenders, journalists, and politicians, appeared on a leaked list of potential Pegasus targets provided to NSO Group.
- Pegasus enables cross-border surveillance, such as the surveillance of associates of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi, further enabling states to extend human rights violations beyond their own borders.
- Pegasus has been associated with cases where evidence has been planted by state authorities to frame dissidents, such as the Bhima Koregaon case in India.
- NSO Group is being sued by Whatsapp, Apple, and in France by Palestinian activist and lawyer Salah Hammouri
PEGASUS AND U.S. POLICY
- In November 2021, the United States Commerce Department banned trade with NSO Group because the company “developed and supplied spyware to foreign governments that used these tools to maliciously target government officials, journalists, businesspeople, activists, academics, and embassy workers.”
- Prior to the ban, the FBI purchased Pegasus for domestic surveillance and the CIA provided Pegasus to the government of Djibouti.
- Since the ban, a U.S. defense contractor L3Harris has reportedly been in talks to buy Pegasus from NSO Group in June 2022.
- An investigation by DAWN found that U.S. lobbyists for NSO Group violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) “by misrepresenting the relationship between the Israeli spyware company and the Government of Israel.”
- “The Pegasus Project: Global Democracy Under Cyber Attack,” Amnesty International
- “The Expansion of Digital Surveillance in Jerusalem and Impact on Palestinians Rights,” 7amleh
- “Israeli Spyware Facilitates Human Rights Violations Globally on a Massive Scale,” BDS Global Campaign
- “Repression Diplomacy: The Israeli Cyber Industry,” Who Profits
- “Digital Violence: How the NSO Group Enables State Violence,” Forensic Architecture
- “Six Palestinian Human Rights Defenders Hacked with NSO Group’s Pegasus Spyware,” Frontline Defenders
- “Hide and Seek: Tracking NSO Group’s Pegasus Spyware to Operations in 45 Countries,” Citizen Lab
- “Operating from the Shadows: Inside NSO Group’s Corporate Structure,” SOMO, Privacy International, Amnesty International