Israel has mastered this technological advantage, as published research studies by Privacy International (PI) revealed.
The technology offers almost total surveillance of mobile phone systems, allowing governments to track and monitor political opponents. Calls can thus be intercepted, while messages and emails can be either read or sent.
Also, smart phones can be turned into microphones allowing real-world conversations to be recorded, Haaretz reported.
A PI report issued two years ago, noted massive growth in the industry: In 2012 it encompassed 246 companies globally, whereas by 2016 the number of firms had more than doubled, to 528.
Some 27 Israeli firms feature on the list, making Israel the country with the highest per capita ratio of surveillance companies. “Local and international data indicate that Israel accounts for between 10 and 20 percent of the global cyber market. In 2016, investments in Israeli startups in the industry accounted for 20 percent of the world total.”
In 2000, when the Israeli economy was struggling, the government encouraged start-ups companies working in security and surveillance.
The Israel Defense Forces was directly involved in these ventures. A recently published study found that the 700 local cyber companies were established by a small group of 2 300 Israelis, 80 percent of whom belong to the IDF’s intelligence units, notably Unit 8200.
Two prominent gateway countries for Israel are Cyprus and Bulgaria. Apart from the low costs, both are members of the European Union, while their developmental lag ensures toothless regulation.
Guy Mizrahi, employee of Cyberia, explained to Haaretz: “Cyprus is definitely one of the preferred countries. Some countries are unwilling to work with Israeli companies and insist on working with a European firm, so you need an additional front to win bids. In most cases, when you want to sell in the EU, and very definitely in the Gulf states, you will need a non-Israeli front.”
The Israeli cyber industry offers espionage capabilities alongside their wide array of security products. “The phenomenon can be likened to a group of hackers who develop malware and afterward sell the antivirus, or to physicians who spread epidemics and then sell the vaccination. Though in some fields this is prohibited practice, in the security world it’s common and widely accepted,” the daily noted.
Israeli MP Yehuda Glick confirmed that such sales had all been approved by the Israeli government. A source told Haaretz that Israeli firms were selling offensive cyber capabilities to Mexico, even after it became known that they were being used against civilians.