Israel’s Unit 8200 and the Exportation of Commercial Spyware & the NSA

Israel's Commercial Spyware

Compiled by Lisa Phillips of

Graduates from Israel’s high-tech spy group Unit 8200 have gone on to facilitate the growth of commercial spyware.

August 22, 2019

by Katherine Barnett

The Israeli Defense Forces’ Unit 8200 is a high-tech military spy branch responsible for the training of some of the country’s top technology experts.

But while the unit has helped Israel become a leading figure in the tech industry, a number of its graduates’ subsequent careers have been dubious.

Facebook’s Onavo and NSO are two companies founded by Unit 8200 graduates that have recently been put under scrutiny.

They demonstrate how expertise developed in the unit can be used to create commercial tech that puts consumer security at risk.

Unit 8200

Unit 8200 is the largest military unit within the IDF and is widely seen as Israel’s equivalent to the NSA. It’s members are young, usually between 18-21, and are chosen for their math, science and problem-solving talents.

Those working within the unit help the development of surveillance tech, hacking, encryption and decoding techniques. They also gather internal and foreign signals, and are responsible for cyber-policing and monitoring civilians.

Unit 8200 also play a significant role in the systematic discrimination of Palestinians.

In 2014, 43 serving and former Unit 8200 members revealed details of surveillance methods used to pry on the private data of innocent Palestinians, including sexual and financial material.

In an open letter, soldiers stated:

Palestinian population under military rule is completely exposed to espionage and surveillance by Israeli intelligence. While there are severe limitations on the surveillance of Israeli citizens, the Palestinians are not afforded this protection.

Despite the global media coverage this received, the monitoring of Palestinians by Unit 8200 continues.

In a report released in December 2018, human rights organisation 7amleh outlined how the unit’s ability to intercept and inject Palestinian communication networks with text messages and phone calls shows the extent to which they are constantly monitoring civilians.

Facebook’s Onavo VPN

Labelled the ‘Start Up Nation’ by authors Dan Senor and Saul Singer, Israel’s main industry is technology. It is key to the country’s economy and veterans of Unit 8200 are dominating the scene.

Former unit soldiers have gone on to found notable tech companies, including Palo Alto Networks and Check Point Software.

The majority of these companies specialise in areas of security such as surveillance, voice recording and cybersecurity.

One of these companies is the Facebook-owned Onavo.

Founded in 2010 by Unit 8200 graduates Guy Rosen and Roi Tiger, the company was acquired by Facebook in October 2013.

Facebook marketed Onavo’s VPN app as a way users could keep their data secure and protect it from potentially compromising websites by encrypting and re-routing their data.

But while this hid all browsing and app activity from ISPs, it gave Facebook almost full visibility of a user’s data, providing them with insights into consumer trends.

These insights led to Facebook’s decision to implement a story feature as a means of competing with its rival Snapchat.

It also led to Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp for $19 billion after discovering that more than twice as many messages were sent off the app than Facebook Messenger.

Consumers were kept largely in the dark about the ways it would violate their privacy and help influence Facebook’s marketing and product strategies.

The Onavo VPN app was shut down last year after it emerged that Facebook was paying teenagers and adults to download the app and provide ‘nearly limitless’ access to their data.

To make matters worse, after Apple banned the app for being in breach of its guidelines, Facebook exploited a loophole that would allow people to circumvent the App Store and download the app directly.

The Commercialisation of Surveillance Tech

This is not the only time that a company linked to Unit 8200 has been the topic of a major security scandal.

The NSO has also made headlines recently following the discovery of a WhatsApp vulnerability which left the app open to infection by their Pegasus spyware.

According to Forbes, the NSO was founded by Unit 8200 graduates Omri Lavie and Shalev Hulio in 2010.

Pegasus has been labelled by Forbes as the ‘world’s most invasive mobile spy-kit’ as it allows for the full monitoring and commandeering of any mobile phone that becomes infected.

These capabilities have led to its use by regimes the world-over who are eager to snoop on or interfere with their enemies.

In a 2017 report, Citizen Lab highlighted the use of NSO technology in countries known for human rights abuses such as Kazakhstan and Mexico.

Amnesty International even took legal action against the Ministry of Defense in an attempt to get the exportation of NSO products revoked. This was in recognition of the use of NSO products to facilitate human rights abuses by authorities globally.


That Unit 8200 is behind Facebook’s Onavo and NSO raises concerns for what other commercial technology could emerge, or already has emerged, from the spy-unit.

With mass surveillance common practice, it’s reasonable to assume that Unit 8200 grads will continue to use this technology in the creation of commercial products.

The actions of NSO and Facebook’s Onavo have shown techniques mastered in the unit can easily be misused to create products that put consumer privacy and security at risk.

Consumers should therefore be aware of any ties companies have to Unit 8200, as well as its role in the surveillance of innocent civilians.


Operation Talpiot is the back door data pipeline from your computer/cell phone to Israel. Everything you communicate electronically is stored and analyzed by Israel. This includes all computers, business and military, as well as the power grids in all countries.

In addition, the Bolshevik Israelis-Russians are stealing American Technology.

Read more:  Israel: The Greatest Spy Machine of All Time – Talpiot and Unit 8200 since 1952

How Israel Rules — Barbarians Inside The Gates (Talpiot Connections to the Communist New Silk Road (Belt and Road Initiative) – Brendon O’Connell

How The Talpiot Program Works – Jeremy Roth-Kushel and Greg McCarron

Operation Talpiot – Articles and Videos

Facebook and Cambridge Analytica’s ties to Communist Russia

As the world left shocked at the news of a bug in WhatsApp’s audio call feature that allowed hackers to install spyware onto Android and iOS phones just by calling the target, its rival Telegram has warned that WhatsApp will continue to be open to surveillance. Launching a scathing attack on the Facebook-owned messaging app that has over 1.5 billion users, Pavel Durov, the Russian founder of Telegram, said that every time WhatsApp has to fix a critical vulnerability in their app, a new one seems to appear in its place.

NY Governor Cuomo and Israel Innovation Authority Announce $2 Million Partnership #SmartCities

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced a $2 million partnership agreement with the Israel Innovation Authority for two new programs that will further strengthen economic development ties between New York State and Israel. Empire State Development will sign a Declaration of Intent with the Israel Innovation Authority to cooperate on the co-development and commercialization of innovative solutions in the fields of cybersecurity, supply chain, smart cities, energy, unmanned aerial vehicles, life sciences and other areas.

See also:  The Israeli venture capital fund Jerusalem Venture Partners (JVP) and corporate innovation expert SOSA have been selected to lead the establishment of a global cyber ecosystem in New York, the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) announced Tuesday.

Israel eases rules on cyber weapons exports despite criticism

August 22, 2019

by Tova Cohen, Ari Rabinovitch

TEL AVIV (Reuters) – Israel is easing export rules on offensive cyber weapons, despite accusations by human rights and privacy groups that its technologies are used by some governments to spy on political foes and crush dissent.

A rule change by the defense ministry means companies can now obtain exemptions on marketing license for the sale of some products to specific countries, a source close to the cyber sector told Reuters.

Israel, like other big defense exporters, closely guards details of its weapons sales and its export rules are not widely known, but the defense ministry confirmed the change had gone into force about a year ago in response to Reuters’ questions.

Industry specialists say the change makes a speedier approval process possible for the sale of cyber weapons, or spyware, which are used to break into electronic devices and monitor online communications.

Israel’s defense ministry said the rule change “was made to facilitate effective service to Israeli industries while maintaining and protecting international standards of export control and supervision”.

It said a marketing-license exemption was granted only under “certain conditions related to the security clearance of the product and assessment of the country toward which the product will be marketed” and that companies were still required to hold an export license. The Israeli government and the companies declined to comment on which neighboring states are among spyware customers.


Factbox: Israel a global leader in growing market for cyber weapons

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FILE PHOTO: The logo of Cybergym, a cyber-warfare training facility backed by the Israel Electric Corporation, is seen at their training center in Hadera, Israel July 8, 2019. Picture taken July 8, 2019. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

TEL AVIV (Reuters) – Israel, a leading provider of hacking and surveillance tools known as cyber weapons, or spyware, is easing requirements on selling the technology abroad.

* Global demand for offensive cyber systems is expected to rise 39% by 2027 to $9.7 billion, according to defense research group Market Forecast, which identified companies in the United States, Israel and the European Union as dominating the market.

* Israel’s annual exports of cyber attack tools amount to hundreds of millions of dollars, a source close to the industry estimated. That’s a small chunk of Israel’s $7 billion in cybersecurity exports, which are dominated by defensive technologies and account for close to 10% of the global market.

* Israeli cyber startups have raised $539 million so far in 2019, compared with $828 million in all of 2018, according to data from Tracxn Technologies. This figure includes offensive and defensive technologies.

* London-based charity Privacy International ranked Israel in the top five globally for surveillance technologies, with 27 companies selling such systems.

Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch and Tova Cohen; Editing by Timothy Heritage and Giles Elgood


Secret NSA Satellite Facility Located at IDF Base in Occupied East Jerusalem

February 10, 2014

by Richard Silverstein

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Secret NSA facility on Jerusalem’s Mt. Scopus (Essa Grayeb)

It’s common to hear when Israeli prime ministers travel to the White House that there isn’t ‘an inch of daylight’ between Israel and the U.S.  That’s how damn close we are.  It’s one thing (and troubling enough) to say this about political issues.  But now it appears that our respective intelligence operations are increasingly coordinated and overlapping.  Of course, there continues to be intensive spying by Israeli agents within the U.S. (Pollard and others agents exposed over the years following testify to this).   But increasingly there appears to be no reason for Israel to attempt to penetrate U.S. security as we’re willing to give it to give them the store.

Yesterday, I reported that Israeli security correspondent Ronen Bergman had revealed the NSA maintained a secret facility in Jerusalem that monitored all U.S. satellites.  I also reported something not in Bergman’s interview: that this base was part of another secret agreement allowing Israel to share in all intelligence information produced as part of the Five Eyes network.  In effect, Israel has become the Sixth Eye.

Working with an Israeli researcher, I’m publishing the first known picture of the facility, which is located on Martin Buber Street near the Hebrew University campus on Mt. Scopus.  This is one of the highest points in Jerusalem and would offer the best vantage point to receive and transmit signals to space satellites.  The NSA facility is located within an IDF SIGINT base called Ofrit, which intercepts telecommunications throughout the West Bank.  Frankly, I’ve never heard of a U.S. intelligence facility housed within an Israeli military base.  This brings home even more strongly how little separation there now is between Israeli and American intelligence operations.  Or to paraphrase Lennon-McCartney: I am you and “you are me and we are all together.”

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Secret NSA satellite base on Jerusalem’s Mt. Scopus (running along Armistice Line towards upper right corner)

You can see the photo of the Ofrit base above, which was labeled by the photographer as Galey Tzahal (Army Radio).  An official government map of the area displayed below shows the site censored (blurred).  Ironically, Israel doesn’t trust its own citizens to be able to see information which Google thinks its users are mature enough to be able to handle.  Thankfully, it hasn’t joined the censorship brigade (yet).

Note, in the uncensored image that the facility is located across the Green Line in Palestinian territory, which makes it in effect a U.S. partner in the Occupation.  Also note that we officially disapprove of the Occupation (supposedly).

For any Israeli security officials reading this, the photographer clearly didn’t know what he was photographing, nor did he approach me or have any contact with me, and shouldn’t be blamed for violating any Israeli secrecy regimen (if there is one).

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Israeli government map censoring NSA facility

In my earlier post about this facility, I spoke in detail about the Five Eyes intelligence sharing regime of which Israel has become a quasi-official member. A reporter to whom I sent this story pointed out another reason why the U.S. may feel it advantageous to include Israel in such protocols. Readers will recall that during the 1967 War, when Israel and the U.S. had no such agreements, we sent the U.S.S. Liberty to monitor Egyptian and Israeli communications traffic from the battlefield. This was the best and only way we had for knowing what each side was doing or planning. Apparently, the Israelis didn’t appreciate our efforts and attacked the ship, killing many U.S. sailors and presumably intelligence officers. It’s very possible that this mishap influenced future policymakers to map out a data-sharing arrangement so that we don’t need to jeopardize our own personnel in monitoring each other’s strategic goals and intentions.

It is, of course, ironic that the base is located on a street named for Martin Buber. He was one of the co-founders of the Brit Shalom movement, and would’ve detested everything that this base, and overall government surveillance represents. It’s also ironic the base sits next to one of Israel’s leading institutions of higher learning. Imagine a secret NSA base located next door to Harvard or Radcliffe (though I do realize stranger things have happened). But then again, this is Israel and not the Ivy League!

I’ve attempted to get a comment from the State Department and White House press offices about this story. So far, they haven’t responded. Perhaps this story will encourage them.


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How the CIA made Google: Inside the Secret Network behind Mass Surveillance, Endless War, and Skynet

CIA Helped Sell a Mapping Startup to Google. Now they won’t tell us why! In-Q-Tel/Keyhole

The Feds’ 9,000 “Opportunity Zones” Will Allow Law Enforcement To Spy On 35 Million People


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