Israel Police, Defense Ministry Mulled Buying Spyware, Hacking Team Leak Reveals

Documents revealed after Italian cyber-surveillance firm was hacked show correspondence with Israeli officials, but it's unclear whether programs were purchased or used.

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Illustration.Credit: Reuters

Officials in the Israel Police, Defense Ministry and Israeli defense electronics firm Elta were looking into purchasing spyware from the Italian firm Hacking Team, documents revealed Wednesday after Hacking Team itself was hacked. It is not clear whether the programs were purchased or used.

Hackers who attacked the Italian cyber-surveillance firm published a file with 400 gigabytes of information stolen from the company’s servers. The material revealed that contrary to Hacking Team’s claims in the past, the company sold malware (hostile cyber technology) to repressive regimes, including in Sudan, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan and Saudi Arabia. Among the documents uncovered is evidence that the Italian company sold its products through the Israeli-American firm Nice to at least two countries.

Hacking Team, which specializes in selling spyware and other malware to governments and companies, has been designated by Journalists Without Borders as one of the enemies of the Internet, because the service it provides makes it possible to break codes, and monitor voice and text chats with a program called DaVinci, which can take over computers remotely and even operate their microphones and cameras.

Documents that were revealed show that a senior figure at Hacking Team visited Israel in late June and met with representatives of the Israel Police, Defense Ministry and Elta, a subsidiary of Israel Aircraft Industries.

One document reveals that these agencies conveyed questions to the company about the capabilities of its spyware. For example, Yaniv Azani, head of technology in the Israel Police cyber unit, asked, among other things, what Internet telephony programs (like Skype or Viber) Hacking Team’s program could monitor, and if it could operate the GPS. According to the document, Hacking Team told the Israel Police that the firm’s direct involvement was required to operate the program.

The police said in response that its cyber unit “is continually developing advanced technologies and is creating interfaces and collaborations with entities in the field in Israel and abroad, in order to continually improve the effectiveness of law enforcement in the cyber world.”

According to the document, the Defense Ministry asked what type of cryptography the spy programs used, as well as whether the information could be exported, and what applications could be operated through it. The Defense Ministry declined to respond for this report by press time.

Elta asked how Hacking Team’s technology dealt with complex passwords for Wifi, and whether the technology could intercept and listen to communications in what is known as “man in the middle” attacks. Israel Aircraft Industries said in response that it “does not manage its affairs in the media.”

The documents also mention that Hacking Team sold its programs through the firm Nice to Honduras and Azerbaijan. Nice responded that it had sold its intelligence unit and is no longer in this area of business. “In the past, solutions of the type described were sold to clients in strict compliance with the relevant laws and under appropriate government supervision,” Nice said.

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