Israel’s Defence Ministry will provide cyber security for the upcoming G20 summit after signing a $5 million deal with its Argentinian counterpart.
The G20 – comprised of 19 countries and the European Union – is scheduled to meet on 30 November in Argentinian capital Buenos Aires. Today it emerged that Israel has signed a deal with the Argentinian Defence Ministry worth more than $5 million to provide cyber security for the high-profile conference.
Under the terms of the deal, Israel’s Defence Ministry will provide a Cyber Defence Informatics Emergency Response Team (CERT) and a Computer Security Incident Response Team (CSIRT), Arutz Sheva reported. The Israeli daily explains that: “The cyber-defence program includes the capability to inhibit drones to a certain range of action. The cyber-security software includes the ability to collect and analyze information from social networks.”
Although the contract itself was signed last year and a further implementation agreement signed by both parties on 21 September, knowledge of the deal has only just been made public.
Although it is well known that many cyber security firms originate in Israel, it is rare for the Defence Ministry to be tasked with providing security for an overseas event at which none of its establishment members will be present. Since Israel is not a member of the G20, it will not be sending a delegation to Buenos Aires next week.
Yet the link between Israel’s defence portfolio and private Israeli cyber security firms is strong. Earlier this week it emerged that soldiers from Israel’s elite military units contribute greatly to the development of Israeli surveillance technology, which is in turn used by cyber-security and spying firms. Many of these soldiers are believed to have belonged to Israel’s Unit 9900 – in which they trained in intelligence gathering using images provided by Israel’s drones and satellites – before going on to use this expertise in the private sector.
One of the spyware firms in question is NSO Group Technologies, which is known for developing the “Pegasus” software that can be used to remotely infect a person’s mobile phone and then relay back data accessed by the device to those wishing to spy. Earlier this month, NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden disclosed that this Pegasus software had been used by Saudi Arabia to track and target Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the lead up to his murder inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on 2 October. Addressing a conference in Tel Aviv via video link, Snowden added that “Israel is routinely at the top of the US’ classified threat list of hackers along with Russia and China […] even though it is an ally”.
This is not the first time Israeli spyware has been used by Saudi Arabia or other regimes with questionable human rights records. In October it was revealed that Saudi Arabia used Pegasus software to eavesdrop on 27-year-old Saudi dissident Omar Abdulaziz – a prominent critic of the Saudi government on social media – after he criticised Saudi Arabia’s handling of its diplomatic spat with Canada. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain are also known to have used this Israeli software, with some noting this cooperation is a likely contributor to the increasing normalisation of relations between Israel and a number of Gulf countries.