The Israeli government has reduced the number of nations to which local security businesses can sell surveillance and offensive hacking equipment by nearly two-thirds, reducing the official cyber export list from 102 to 37.
Only countries with proven democracies, such as those from Europe and the Five Eyes coalition, are included in the new list, which was obtained by Israeli business publication Calcalist earlier today:
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.
Autocratic regimes, to which Israeli corporations have frequently sold surveillance gear, are strikingly absent from the list.
Spyware produced by Israeli companies such as Candiru and the NSO Group has been implicated in human rights violations in tens of nations in recent years, with local governments using the tools to spy on journalists, activists, dissidents, and political opponents. The government has not issued a statement on the list’s update, according to Calcalist writers, and it is unclear why it was cut down earlier this month.
The timing, on the other hand, shows that Israel’s supporters may have driven it to make this decision.
The list was updated a week after a covert meeting between Israeli and French officials to address suspicions that NSO Group spyware was deployed against French President Emmanuel Macron. The announcement coincided with the US sanctioning of four monitoring firms, including Israel’s Candiru and NSO Group.
The penalties are reported to have sent NSO into a death spiral, with the business sliding from a prospective sale to French investors to losing its newly-appointed CEO and possibly filing for bankruptcy as a company-non-grata in the realm of cyberweapons. Azimuth Security co-founder Mark Dowd discussed Israeli-based surveillance vendors and their penchant for selling to offensive regimes in an episode of the Risky Business podcast last month, blaming it on the fact that these companies don’t usually have contacts in western governments to contend with western rivals.
The limited cyber export list is likely to inflict a huge hole in Israel’s estimated $10 billion surveillance sector, with the Israeli Defense Ministry tightening the reins on exports to despotic governments.
According to a report released earlier this month by the Atlantic Council, there are roughly 224 companies selling surveillance and hacking tools, with 27 of them based in Israel.