Israel Restricts Export of Spyware Tools Amidst Controversy

  • Last updated November 29, 2021
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Isreal has decided to restrict the number of countries its companies are selling hacking or spyware tools. The decision has been taken due to the criticism from its allies over how those tools are being utilized.

According to a report by Calcalist, Israeli companies are being ordered to restrict the selling of cyberweapons to countries throughout Europe, members of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance, and the like.

As per The Record, the number of potential customers those companies has been reduced to 37 from 102. The countries that will still receive the spyware tools include:

Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands, the UK, and the US.

According to Calcalist, the government didn’t release an official update regarding the update in the list, and that it was narrowed down earlier this month. However, by simply observing the situation that has been developing recently, it can be deduced that the Israeli government might have been pressured into this decision by its allies.

The update in the list came a few weeks after a secret meeting was held between Israeli and French officials to discuss accusations that NSO Group spyware might have been used against French president Emmanuel Macron.

It all happened simultaneously; the US sanctioned four surveillance vendors, including Israel’s Candiru and NSO Group. These sanctions can be proved very deadly to NSO Group, as they can lose their newly appointed CEO and face bankruptcy.

According to Commerce Department, they acted purely:

Based on evidence that these entities developed and supplied spyware to foreign governments that used these tools to maliciously target government officials, journalists, business people, activists, academics, and embassy workers.

Moreover, it is estimated that these restrictions can easily put a giant dent in Israel’s estimated $10 billion surveillance market. While talking on Risky Business Podcast, Azimuth Security co-founder Mark Dowd confirmed that these companies usually don’t have contracts with the western governments, so that is the reason they can not dispute with their western rivals.

While these allegations have been surfacing against these companies for a while now – especially NSO Group- the situation got worse in July when a group of companies led by Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International printed a series of reports on the company’s Pegasus spyware.

Many companies, including WhatsApp, Facebook, and Apple, have sued Israel’s NSO Group for its Pegasus spyware. In July, NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware was found targeting iPhones with zero-click exploits.

Israel’s NSO Group sold the spyware to governments to hack the smartphones of journalists, activists, and criminals. The targets included members of the Arab royal family, Jamal Khashoggi, Al-Jazeera reporters, and many more.

Spyware like Pegasus is a violation of human rights and is condemned across the world. The lawsuit by Apple, Whatsapp, and Facebook is a step forward in favor of users’ right to privacy. The lawsuit is a major reason behind Israeli companies restricting the export of hacking tools.

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