Israel is the world’s leading exporter of cybercrime

The website of Israel-made Pegasus spyware (Mario Goldman - AFP)

Asa Winstanley

Middle East Monitor  /  November 23, 2021

Last week, I was struck down with COVID-19 and was forced to have some time off.

I was hit quite hard in the end. Thankfully, I did not have to be hospitalized. I received support from NHS doctors over the phone. Many people have had it much worse than me.

When registering my positive COVID-19 test with the NHS, I was asked to register the test result with the NHS Covid-19 app. I had installed the app on my phone soon after it became available last year.

The app is able to track my movements using my phone location. When I registered the positive test, it asked my permission to share details on my movements over the previous few days—the time in which I must have been exposed to the coronavirus.

This is known as digital contact tracing.

The app stated that it would anonymously share these details with the NHS. Others with the NHS app installed, who were in the same location as me over that same period, would then be informed of the fact that they might have been exposed to the coronavirus, so that they can get tested and so that infections can be reduced.

While some may view this as an invasion of privacy, I gave my consent and did not mind at all. The app’s data-sharing is for the purposes of public health and, in any event, the data I shared was totally anonymized.

The bottom line is that I was not worried.

Smartphones are spying devices imposed by Silicon Valley monopolies, in any case. Invasive data harvesting (and data selling) by companies like Facebook is far more concerning to me.

Anonymous data on my movements being anonymously shared with the NHS for the purposes of containing the spread of a deadly pandemic are the least of my concerns.

A much bigger worry to me is aggressive cyber weapons, such as those pushed by Israeli cyber mercenaries firms, like NSO Group.

NSO, one of Israel’s leading exporters of cyber weaponry, has now even been blacklisted by the US commerce department, meaning it is no longer allowed to buy parts and components from US companies, at least not without a special license.

This is due to NSO’s spyware, Pegasus, and its targeting of politicians, journalists, and human rights workers. Pegasus is able to effectively hijack a target’s phone, stealing passwords, photos, videos, text messages and even being able to switch on their cameras and microphones as required.

In other words, smartphones can be turned into weapons against their own users.

This is yet another example of Israel setting a global pattern for total surveillance.

recent exposé gave an even more disturbing example of this: the “Wolf Pack” and “Blue Wolf” systems. One whistleblower, a former Israeli soldier, called them a “total violation of privacy of an entire people.”

Wolf Pack is a vast database which includes “profiles of virtually every Palestinian in the West Bank, including photographs of the individuals, their family histories, education and a security rating for each person.”

Blue Wolf is a smartphone technology and wider facial recognition system which scans the faces of every Palestinian it comes into contact with.

In the Palestinian city of Hebron, a network of CCTV cameras “dubbed ‘Hebron Smart City,’ provides real-time monitoring of the city’s population and, one former soldier said, can sometimes see into private homes.”

Prizes were doled out to those Israeli soldiers that managed to take the most photos of Palestinians’ faces—including those of children.

This is the beginnings of an oppressive system for total surveillance of all Palestinians.

In the same way that NSO allowed Israel to export its Pegasus spyware to other oppressive regimes like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, you can bet that there are plans afoot to export systems like “Wolf Pack” and “Blue Wolf” overseas.

Israel is a boon only to other oppressors.

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist living in London who writes about Palestine and the Middle East