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19 Jul 2021

Hagar Ravet

Commentary: The rotten oranges of Israeli cybersecurity

43% of Israel's export is attributed to tech, according to the Israel Innovation Authority’s annual report. Another figure from the same report showed that the two hottest sectors, those which attracted the most funds and investors, were cybersecurity and fintech... But the reports from recent days regarding offensive-cyber company NSO, which joins a long list of exposes in Calcalist over recent years, must push the responsible authorities, both inside and outside of the industry, to reassess the situation.

Israel offers a unique training course for tech entrepreneurs and developers, which starts at the elite military units. And no units are more elite than the different cyber units, whose graduates (a vast majority of which are still men) are snapped up by the leading companies or found their own companies. This has turned Israeli cyber into a world leader, so much so that over 40% of investments in the sector globally in 2020 went to Israeli companies and entrepreneurs.

It should be said that most Israeli cybersecurity companies develop decent and kosher products. Starting from industry veteran Check Point through to SentinelOne, which recently went public, unicorns of the likes of Wiz, Cybereason and Orca.. But alongside these companies, there is another cyber industry blossoming in Israel for years, one that is more comfortable remaining in the shadows...

Over time, other companies, small and less famous, have popped up on our radar. Israel's Senpai, for example, assisted Malaysia's allegedly corrupt Prime Minister to track opposition activists, and just last week we reported on Tel-Aviv based Candiru, whose spyware was used to spy on more than 100 human rights activists, regime opponents, journalists, and scholars...

Over the past weekend, Ronen Bergman revealed in the New York Times that the Israeli government encouraged these companies to sell services to Saudi Arabia, a country that is far from being a functioning democracy and whose ruler's involvement in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi has been verified by intelligence agencies across the world.

Concurrently, the Defense Export Control Authority at the Ministry of Defence, which is responsible for overseeing cyber, continues to protect these companies in the courts every time they face a lawsuit and refuses to reveal why and according to which considerations it makes its decisions regarding who will receive an export license and who won't.

... Hopefully, these journalistic revelations will not only make it more difficult for the companies themselves, but will also result in the rethinking of the secret and automatic support they are offered by Israeli governments.