Gantz: Defense Ministry looking into NSO Group investigation | #cybersecurity | #cyberattack

Israel’s Defense Ministry is studying the investigation into NSO Group, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Tuesday after it was revealed that the Israeli cyber company has been selling spyware to foreign governments to target journalists and activists.

“We are aware of recent publications regarding the use of systems developed by certain Israeli cyber companies,” Gantz said Tuesday at Cyber Week at Tel Aviv University, without naming the Herzliya-based company.

On Sunday, the Pegasus Project revealed that the spyware sold by NSO (Pegasus) had been identified on the phones of individuals targeted by the governments of Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Mexico, Morocco, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Hungary, India, the United Arab Emirates and more.

The investigation was carried out by 17 media organizations and led by the Paris-based journalism nonprofit Forbidden Stories and sponsored by Amnesty International. At the center of it was a leaked list of 50,000 phone numbers belonging to journalists, senior politicians, and business people.

Gantz asserted that as a matter of policy Israel authorizes the export of cyber products “solely to governments, only for lawful use and exclusively for the purposes of preventing and investigating crime and terrorism” and that the country controls the exports of such products and complies with international export control regimes.

“The countries acquiring these systems must abide by their commitments to these requirements. We are currently studying the information that is published on the subject,” Gantz said.

In a statement released after the investigation was published, the Defense Ministry said that it will take “appropriate action” if NSO Group violated the terms of its export licenses or end use certificates.

Touching on cyber in Israel, Gantz said that there has been a “significant increase” in the number of cyberattacks targeting Israeli national infrastructure in recent years including by Iran and its proxies.

“Our enemies know no boundaries – just as they fire rockets at civilians, they aim to harm civilian facilities via cyberspace while endangering human lives,” he said, adding that Israel works around the clock to prevent cyber attacks and has demonstrated “its technological advance and Qualitative Military Edge.”

Gantz said that a lot of hard work is required to maintain Israel’s advantage in the cybersphere and is working with partners “around the world” to share information, expertise and develop new capabilities. 

Touching on the recent fighting with Gaza, the former chief of staff mentioned the targeting of the AP building that housed various media outlets as well as Hamas “cyber terrorists under Iranian guidance” who attempted to damage Israeli infrastructure by cyber attacks.

During the fighting, the IDF also struck the Head of Hamas’ cyber command, Jamaa Tahla as well as several cyber attackers, related equipment, and infrastructure used by Hamas’ cyber command.

“Our message is clear – be it a rocket or a keyboard – we will not tolerate anyone who threatens our people,” Gantz said.

Also at the event the “Cyber Shield” award was presented to the IDF for “inspiring and groundbreaking achievements in promoting Israeli cyber and bringing Israel to the status of a global cyber power,” the organizers said.

The award was presented to the head of Military Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Tamir Heiman and the head of the C4I Directorate Maj.-Gen. Lior Carmeli.

Heiman said that the IDF was able to function “better, faster and with fewer casualties” during the May fighting due to intelligence that had been gathered from a variety of sources and “fused together” by advanced processing capabilities such as artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Echoing Gantz, Heiman said that Israel is “under constant threat” in the cybersphere and is able to deal with them with advanced defense capabilities.

“As in other sorts of combat, defense alone is not enough. Additional steps must be taken to preserve Israel’s supremacy over our enemies,” he said. “Those who attack Israel by air, sea, land or cyber need to understand the risk they are taking. As they are able to see time and time again, the attacks will be answered accordingly.”

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