A brief look at Israel's thriving hacking industry

 | Updated: Nov 05, 2019, 11:48 AM IST

Surveillance tools or cyber weapons is a big business and the global demand for offensive cyber systems is rising as we speak; and when there is demand, there is supply.

Here's where Israel comes into the picture and the recent incident of Israeli-based company, the NSO group being involved in WhatsApp snooping of journalists, activists and diplomats including those in India has put this issue more in the spotlight.

This report charts the hacking industry in Israel and how it is thriving.

Global leader of surveillance tools

It's not just the NSO group, Israel is the global leader in providing hacking and surveillance tools.

In 2012 there were 246 companies and by 2016 the number rose to 528; this is the growth story of the global surveillance industry.

Most companies are based in the US, United Kingdom, France, Germany and Israel. Twenty-seven of them are headquartered just in Israel.

In fact, Israel is home to the largest number of surveillance companies and their clients are spread all over the world.


Services not limited to technology only!

These 27 Israeli firms offer a range of services including, hacking of phones, monitoring the internet, audio-surveillance and analysis, biometrics, and even counter-surveillance.

The services are not limited to technology alone, the Israeli offer manpower too.

Companies registered in Cyprus, Bulgaria, Switzerland and the United Kingdom are run by Israelis.

They are in partnership, direct or indirect with 21 European Union countries and these cyber alliances are special.


Friends foes all are same!

Not just traditional business partnerships, many go through the back door.

Israel has cyber cooperation even with countries that don't recognise the Jewish state like the Arab nations.

For instance, when the US announced an arms deal with Saudi Arabia in 2017, it had a hidden component.

That component was cybersecurity technology developed by Israel.

In other words, surveillance systems from Israel to Saudi Arabia which otherwise a hostile country.


The 'cyber superpower'

If the US was the route to sell surveillance products to Saudi Arabia, then Switzerland was the route to expand into the United Arab Emirates, the project 'falcon eye' is a case in point.

Israel is the market leader; a cyber superpower.

No wonder then, that Saudi Arabia approached Israeli firm 'intuview' to help in tracking dissidents on social media.


Government support

Israeli governments support this business. They see it as an opportunity and there are two reasons for that; one is the big money.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had also said 'cyber is a serious threat and a very lucrative business'.

And the numbers don't lie as well.

From 240 million dollars in 2014 to a whopping 1,191 million dollars in 2018, cybersecurity equity investments in Israel have grown over 400 per cent in 4-years.

In terms of venture capital investments, Israel tops every other country and the graph is going north.


Strategic reason

The second reason is strategic.

With technology, Israel also supplies cybersecurity professionals.

This gives them an entry into every war-room in the world, access to the most classified conversations, and a heads-up on every conflict on earth.

This is a business plus strategic advantage and Israel continues to exploit the loopholes of cybersecurity regulation.

In a way, Israel's hacking industry has made it the master supervisor of the world.

These tools help authoritative states to track activists and opponents.

The countries using these tools forget, they too are being tracked by Israel.