How Do Israel’s Tech Firms Do Business in Saudi Arabia? Very Quietly

Good deals (and plausible deniability) make good neighbors.

By Jonathan Ferziger and Peter Waldman / Bloomberg Businessweek

Over the course of 30 years working in Israeli intelligence, Shmuel Bar immersed himself in the hermeneutics of terrorism. Using techniques of literary analysis more familiar to Koranic scholars and Bible critics, he came to recognize the distinctive language and religious phrases that suicide bombers used in their farewell videos. “Victory is with the patient” appeared frequently in the martyrdom declarations of Hamas recruits. Al-Qaeda adherents favored the call “God, count them, kill them, and don’t leave any of them.”

Bar, a tousle-haired 62-year-old with a wry sensibility, emerged from government service in 2003 amid the proliferation of global terrorism, and in the rising sense of doom he saw a business opportunity. He founded a company called IntuView, a miner of data in the deep, dark web – a sort of Israeli version of Palantir, the Silicon Valley security contractor. Tapping engineering talent in Israel’s startup hub of Herzliya, he adapted his analyst’s ear for language to custom algorithms capable of sifting through unending streams of social media messages for terrorist threats. He sold his services to police, border, and intelligence agencies across Europe and the U.S.

Then, two years ago, an e-mail arrived out of the blue. Someone from the upper echelons of power in Saudi Arabia, Bar says, invited him to discuss a potential project via Skype. The Saudis had heard about his technology and wanted his help identifying potential terrorists. There was one catch: Bar would have to set up a pass-through company overseas to hide IntuView’s Israeli identity. Not a problem, he said, and he went to work ferreting out Saudi jihadis with a software program called IntuScan, which can process 4 million Facebook and Twitter posts a day. Later, the job expanded to include public-opinion research on the Saudi royal family.

“It’s not as if I went looking for this,” Bar says, still bemused by the unexpected turn in a life spent confronting Israel’s enemies. “They came to me.”

“IF IT’S A COUNTRY WHICH IS NOT HOSTILE TO ISRAEL THAT WE CAN HELP, WE’LL DO IT”

Bar says he meets freely these days with Saudis and other Gulf Arabs at overseas conferences and private events. Trade and collaboration in technology and intelligence are flourishing between Israel and a host of Arab states, even if the people and companies involved rarely talk about it publicly. When a London think tank recently disinvited Bar from speaking on a panel, explaining that a senior Saudi official was also coming and it wasn’t possible to have them appear together, Bar told the organizers that he and the Saudi gentleman had in fact been planning to have lunch together at a Moroccan restaurant nearby before walking over to the event together. “They were out-Saudi-ing the Saudis,” he says.

Peace hasn’t come to the Middle East. This isn’t beating swords into plowshares but a logical coalescence of interests based on shared fears: of an Iranian bomb, jihadi terror, popular insurgency, and an American retreat from the region. IntuView has Israeli export licenses and the full support of its government to help any country facing threats from Iran and militant Islamic groups. “If it’s a country which is not hostile to Israel that we can help, we’ll do it,” Bar says. Only Syria, Lebanon, Iran, and Iraq are off-limits.

The Saudis and other oil-rich Arab states are only too happy to pay for the help. “The Arab boycott?” Bar says. “It doesn’t exist.”

Cybersecurity is particularly ripe for collaboration. In 2012, when hackers breached the computer system of Saudi Aramco, the national oil company, Israeli businesses were called to help unlock the jam, and “some are involved in an ongoing basis” through offshore companies, says Erel Margalit, a venture capitalist and member of the Israeli parliament. Expect more of this, said Rudy Giuliani, in a late January interview in Israel, where he met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on behalf of President Donald Trump. “I see it as well beyond [cyber] in terms of areas of cooperation,” added the former New York City mayor, who’s advising Trump on cyber matters.

Saudi officials declined to speak on the record about possible ties to Israel. Questions e-mailed to the kingdom’s interior ministry and its embassy in Washington for this article were unanswered. A source in Riyadh, insisting on anonymity, e-mailed a statement denying any trade links between Israel and Saudi Arabia:

  • “In regard to defense systems technology, Saudi Arabia has never dealt with Israel in this field or any other field. Moreover, common sense tells us that in order for Saudi Arabia to get any weapon systems, they have to be bought under trade agreements made with friendly countries that manufacture those systems with official and approved export trade certificates from their governments. It is also certain that Israel is not among the countries that have commercial relations with the Kingdom.”

The Arab embargo of Israel, nominally in force since the Jewish state’s founding in 1948, necessitates that all business between Israel and most Arab states remain strictly off the books, cloaked by intermediaries in other countries. But the volume and range of Israeli activity in at least six Gulf countries is getting hard to hide. One Israeli entrepreneur set up companies in Europe and the U.S. that installed more than $6 billion in security infrastructure for the United Arab Emirates, using Israeli engineers. The same companies then pitched Saudi Arabia to manage overcrowding in Mecca. Other Israeli businesses are working in the Gulf, through front companies, on desalination, infrastructure protection, cybersecurity, and intelligence gathering.

“All the big ones are active and some of the small ones,” says Shabtai Shavit, who ran the Mossad from 1989 to 1996 and is chairman of the Israeli security firm Athena GS3. Shavit won’t offer details on who’s doing what. “You don’t saw off the branch you’re sitting on,” he says.

Discretion is particularly prized when it comes to weapons sales. At the New Hampshire plant of Elbit Systems of America, a subsidiary of Elbit Systems, Israel’s largest private defense contractor, there was a procedure when customers visited from Kuwait, Qatar, or Saudi Arabia, workers say. Managers purged the building of Elbit signs, Israeli maps, and Hebrew writing. Employee nameplates were removed temporarily, “if you had an obvious Jewish name,” says Richard Wolfe, who worked at the facility for 15 years, through 2013, designing lenses for the various optical systems the plant produces. Some components were also scrubbed of Israeli markings, another former worker says. Elbit Systems of America said in a statement that it isn’t company policy to conceal the Elbit name or other associations with Israel.

Elbit’s sales to Saudi Arabia attracted some attention two years ago when one of its New Hampshire technicians, an American named Chris Cramer, mysteriously died while servicing missile systems in the kingdom. According to a travelogue Cramer posted on Facebook, he was sent to help the Saudi army with a series of live-fire demonstrations of Elbit’s newly upgraded targeting system for TOW missiles. Cramer had worked for Elbit for 12 years and helped build the system. He was found dead beneath his third-story hotel room in the military city of Tabuk one day before he was due to come home. Saudi police called the death a suicide, which Cramer’s family rejected.

In a statement issued in Israel, Elbit did not specify what Cramer had been doing in Saudi Arabia. It said only that he was working on an “American product” with no Israeli technology. The statement e-mailed by the Saudi source said:

  • “In regard to the death of the American citizen, that matter has criminal and judicial dimensions. The Saudi government does not interfere in these cases and assigns them to the criminal and judicial bodies to look into and decide in accordance with the laws governing these types of cases.”

In speeches, Netanyahu likes to quip that the three reasons Arabs are interested in Israel these days are “technology, technology, and technology.” That interest doesn’t translate into open business relationships for one reason above all others: the Israeli-Palestinian problem. Cooperation in the Gulf cannot become truly lucrative until “the lightbulb goes off in Netanyahu’s head” and he signs a peace treaty, says Riad al Khouri, a director at political risk adviser GeoEconomica, based in Amman, Jordan. “The Palestinians are still the gatekeepers.” And the conflict could quickly get worse. Trump said during his campaign, and reiterated after his inauguration, that he intends to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. His nominee for ambassador to Israel, his bankruptcy lawyer, David Friedman, has said he intends to work from Jerusalem, calling it “Israel’s eternal capital.” The Palestinian Fatah party has stated such a move would “open the gates of hell.” On Feb. 1, Netanyahu pledged to build the first new West Bank settlement in 25 years. Since Trump took office, Israel has announced plans to build an additional 5,500 housing units in the occupied territory. Trump has invited Netanyahu to visit the White House on Feb. 15.

The Saudis say they’ll make peace with Israel after Israel makes peace with the Palestinians. The offer was reiterated in 2016 by two retired senior Saudi officials in rare public appearances alongside Israeli counterparts in Washington and Jerusalem. Salman al-Ansari, a former banker and media executive who runs a new Saudi advocacy group in Washington, sent an even stronger signal in October. In an article for the Hill, he wrote that Saudi Arabia and Israel should form a “collaborative alliance,” rooted in open business ties, to assert their rightful place as the “twin pillars of regional stability.” Arab critics skewered al-Ansari for not mentioning the Palestinians in the article. He says the omission was intentional, reflecting his wish to change the old narrative of conditioning everything on Palestinian statehood. Even without formal diplomatic ties, he says, the Saudi-Israeli relationship can blossom under the “pragmatic and forward-thinking” Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

That openness could change quickly if Trump and Netanyahu provoke another Palestinian intifada. Still, these feelers “show how Saudi Arabia is changing,” says Dennis Ross, who conducted Arab-Israeli diplomacy for three U.S. presidents. “You’d never have seen something like that before. These are clearly straws in the wind.”

On the ground, Netanyahu’s frontman for regional cooperation is Ayoob Kara, a 61-year-old Arab-Israeli parliamentarian who recently became a full cabinet minister. A member of the Druze sect and a hard-liner on Palestinian peacemaking, Kara shares the Likud Party dream – or some might say fantasy – of normalizing relations with Arab states while retaining large swaths of the West Bank.

Kara (in blue) at home with friends and relatives.
(Photographer: Yaakov Israel for Bloomberg Businessweek)

On a day last November, Kara stood on the veranda of a Jordanian mineral spa overlooking the Dead Sea and swept his left arm southward toward the Gulf of Aqaba, where Israel, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia converge. Israel and Jordan are developing plans for the desolate area where Moses led the Israelites while wandering the desert for 40 years, and Kara insists Saudi Arabia will eventually be involved. “They want our technology, they want our expertise, and they really want to get the Palestinian headache out of the way,” he says.

Plans start with the biggest public works collaboration ever proposed among Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinians. Dubbed the Red Sea-Dead Sea Conveyance Project, it’s a $10 billion pipeline and desalination venture, backed in part by the World Bank, that will siphon water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea, 1,400 feet below sea level. The project, whose construction is scheduled to start in 2018, will produce drinking water and electricity for Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinians. Waste brine will then flow into the Dead Sea, a vast mineral sink that’s been shrinking for years. The project could ease water conflicts in the hydrological crossroads where Israel, Jordan, the West Bank, and parts of Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and Syria all rely on the same handful of rivers and aquifers.

Kara has more immediate concerns, too, as he gazes across the water at the West Bank and Israel. Invited here to address the Swedish-funded EcoPeace Middle East conference on regional water sharing, Kara also arranged to meet a Jordanian counterpart to discuss a possible trade route from Europe and Turkey through the Israeli port city of Haifa, to Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf. Since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war, Haifa has become a transshipment hub for Turkish goods that used to travel by road to the Gulf through eastern Turkey and Syria. Today about 20 Turkish trucks a week arrive by rusty freighter on the Haifa docks, where Israeli officials X-ray and process them in a drive-through warehouse and send them on their way across the Galilee to Jordan. For a time, customs agents at the Jordanian-Saudi border waved them through. But passage to Saudi Arabia ended abruptly two years ago, when a competitor in Riyadh ratted out several truckloads of Turkish tomatoes that had arrived, via Haifa, in Saudi markets, according to a Haifa freight broker.

Kara is working with Gulf diplomats, through partners high up in Jordan’s government, to attempt to reopen the Israeli-Saudi route to the wider Arabian Peninsula, a move that would quintuple Turkish truck traffic overnight, the freight broker says. “Very soon things will be out in the open, and you’ll see Netanyahu landing in one of these countries,” Kara says. His Jordanian go-between agrees: “Times have changed,” he says.

“They’re all looking at ways to connect with Israel.”

Netanyahu also uses other aides for high-level Arab contacts, including his personal attorney, Yitzhak Molcho, and former Ambassador to the United Nations Dore Gold. Off and on since the Oslo Accords in the early 1990s, Israel has operated trade offices in Qatar and Oman, and about a year ago it received approval to station a diplomat in the U.A.E.’s capital emirate, Abu Dhabi, as its representative to the International Renewable Energy Agency. The office has the capacity to function as an embassy for Israel’s expanding ties in the Gulf.

“I CONNECT WITH PEOPLE IN ARABIC, BUT I DON’T GIVE UP ON ISRAEL’S NEEDS”

Kara’s role is unique. The only Arab in Netanyahu’s cabinet, he meets regularly with Arab diplomats and businessmen in Cairo, Casablanca, Geneva, and New York. The Druze sect, which numbers about 140,000 in Israel and an additional 850,000 in Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, formed a millennium ago. Druze have survived in tightknit farming clans in mountain villages by paying allegiance to whatever political authority is in control.

Two of Kara’s uncles were killed by Arabs for cooperating with Jews before Israeli statehood. He was injured in an Israeli army tank while fighting in the 1982 Lebanon War and discharged as an officer after two of his brothers were killed. He practiced law in northern Israel for 15 years, won a Knesset seat in 1999, and broke into the Likud Party leadership in 2006. To celebrate Israel’s 58th Independence Day that year, he threw a party for Netanyahu and hired kosher butchers to slaughter 58 sheep for the occasion. Netanyahu feasted with 7,000 Druze townspeople in front of the Kara home, in Daliyat al-Karmel.

“I feel like a Jew, but I’m not a Jew,” Kara says, sitting with his college-age daughter, Ameera, on the stone portico by his front door. “I connect with people in Arabic, but I don’t give up on Israel’s needs.” He whips out a cell phone to show a photo of a guy lighting a fat Cuban cigar for him in a New York hotel suite. The older bald man, who’s wearing suspenders and holding the lighter, is a member of the royal family of Qatar, Kara says, and one of his go-to go-betweens.

He also says there’s Gulf interest in a second Red Sea pipeline, an existing one built 50 years ago in partnership with the shah of Iran when the two countries maintained secret alliances. The state-owned Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline Co. operates the 160-mile conduit to pump oil from tankers in the Red Sea port of Eilat to the Mediterranean city of Ashkelon. It bypasses the Suez Canal and can cut shipping costs to Europe and North America. When the shah was overthrown in 1979, Israel took sole ownership of the project. A Swiss appeals court last year awarded Iran $1.1 billion in lost revenue, a sum Israel refuses to pay its sworn enemy. Kara says the prospect of using the pipeline keeps coming up in his discussions with Saudis.

Kara’s home at Daliyat al-Karmel. (Photographer: Yaakov Israel for Bloomberg Businessweek)

For now, “everything has to be under the radar,” says Shavit, the former Mossad chief. That’s how Mati Kochavi blazed Israel’s trail into the Gulf with a $6 billion security business in the United Arab Emirates. An Israeli serial entrepreneur who lives part time in the U.S., Kochavi, 54, founded several high-tech security companies after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. One, called 4D Security Solutions of South Plainfield, N.J., built the perimeter monitoring systems at New York’s airports.

Kochavi shopped his companies’ services to the leaders of the U.A.E. and Abu Dhabi. He didn’t hide that he and most of his companies’ technology and many of their employees came from Israel. Not a concern, he was assured, as long as the contractors weren’t domiciled in Israel. In fact, Israel’s security prowess was seen as an advantage in a country facing similar threats but lacking sophisticated defenses, former Kochavi employees say. “There weren’t even fences when we started,” says one former Israeli intelligence officer, describing the Emirates’ 3 million-barrel-a-day oil infrastructure. “A camel could have walked up to the production facilities and drank the oil.” Kochavi, through his spokesman, Moshe Debby, declined to comment.

Kochavi sold the U.A.E. on what became the most comprehensive integrated security system in the world at the time. From 2007 through 2015, a Kochavi company called AGT International, based in Zurich, installed thousands of cameras, sensors, and license-plate readers along the U.A.E.’s 620-mile international border and throughout Abu Dhabi. AGT’s artificial intelligence platform, code-named Wisdom, analyzed images and data from the devices. Nominally, Kochavi managed the operation out of the U.S. and Switzerland. The real brainpower, however, resided in Israel, at a separate Kochavi company called Logic Industries.

Twice a week at the height of the project, a chartered Boeing 737, painted all white, took off from Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport, touched down briefly in Cyprus or Jordan for political cover, and landed about three hours later in Abu Dhabi with dozens of Israeli engineers onboard, many of them out of the intelligence services. They lived and ate together – never in restaurants – carried location transmitters and panic buttons at all times, and disguised their nationality and Hebrew names as best they could. They called Israel “C country”; Kochavi was known as “MK.”

Most Arabs who worked with AGT saw through the Swiss veneer, which caused occasional tension but didn’t stop the formation of some close friendships. The charade got a bit absurd at times, such as when U.A.E. intelligence officials would wryly address the Israelis by pseudonyms from the TV series Lost, such as “Boone” and “Sawyer.”

The Israeli technology demonstrated its value in December 2014, when a woman stabbed an American schoolteacher to death in the restroom of an Abu Dhabi mall. She then drove to the home of an Egyptian-American doctor and planted a bomb, which was later defused. AGT’s network, processing video and still images captured at the scenes, identified the suspect within a day. She was convicted and executed seven months later. Government spokesmen in Abu Dhabi didn’t respond to e-mailed questions about AGT’s work in the U.A.E. An embassy spokesman in Washington declined to comment.

“WHAT ALWAYS SURPRISES ME IS HOW MUCH MONEY AND TECHNOLOGY AND EQUIPMENT FLOWS BETWEEN MORTAL ENEMIES ON THE POLITICAL STAGE”

In 2014, as the U.A.E. project was winding down, AGT and 4D teamed up on a crowd-management system with Mobily, a Saudi-based cellular provider, for a place so sacred that non-Muslims can’t even set foot there: Mecca. With more than 3 million people flooding the city for the annual five-day hajj pilgrimage, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Hajj solicited bids for controlling access to the area. Although the Saudis ration hajj permits, they don’t turn away pilgrims who make it into the holy city. So the flow of pilgrims has to be controlled long before their buses reach Western Saudi Arabia from throughout the Middle East and North Africa. But how?

4D engineers in New Jersey designed a system requiring every credentialed pilgrim to wear an electronic bracelet that would register his or her presence on hajj buses. The buses would use Mobily’s cellular system to notify a central computer how many travelers were on each bus – both with bracelets and without. A red light could flash on the outside of buses carrying unpermitted passengers, alerting police to pull them over long before they reached Mecca. Or automated gates might turn them back at electronic checkpoints. Saudi officials could also deploy 4D’s design like an air traffic control system, sequencing bus arrivals to minimize congestion.

The Kochavi companies and Mobily demonstrated a prototype of their system at the Hajj Ministry in Jeddah. The minister at the time, Bandar al-Hajjar, participated in the test with several aides, each donning 4D bracelets on a bus in the parking lot. At one point a computer screen showed there were more bracelets than passengers on the bus, a potentially embarrassing error. But al-Hajjar smiled and pulled a second wristband out of his pocket. “He was testing us,” says a former Kochavi employee.

The AGT-4D system earned the ministry’s top score of three prototypes presented. Yet they didn’t get the job. Several months later, some engineers at Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals published an almost identical idea in an academic journal. At last year’s hajj, the Saudis required pilgrims to wear bracelets for the first time. The police announced they turned back almost 200,000 people without permits. A Hajj Ministry spokesman didn’t respond to e-mailed questions.

“Mobily has submitted a bid for the mentioned contract with an American company, but we did not win,” wrote Mobily spokesman Mohammed Al Belwe, in response to e-mailed questions. “Claiming that this is a cooperation between Mobily and an Israeli company is totally misleading and incorrect. … Our policy will not allow such teaming-up.”

A former senior engineer in Kochavi’s operation says he and his team believed their idea was stolen. Still, he marvels that the test happened at all. “What always surprises me is how much money and technology and equipment flows between mortal enemies on the political stage,” he says. But Islam’s holiest site appears to be, at least for now, a leap too far.

 

U.S. indicts Iranians hackers for cyber warfare

Reuters.com

Seven Iranian hackers broke into computers of dozens of U.S. banks, causing millions of dollars in lost business, and tried to shut down a New York dam, the U.S. government said on March 24 in an indictment that for the first time accused individuals tied to another country of trying to disrupt critical U.S. infrastructure.

It said the seven accused were believed to have been working on behalf of Iran’s government and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard. Those named live in Iran, and the Iranian government is not expected to extradite them. There was no immediate comment from Tehran.

At least 46 major financial institutions and financial-sector companies were targeted, including JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, AT&T, and American Express.

The hackers are accused of hitting the banks with distributed-denial-of-service attacks on a near-weekly basis, a relatively unsophisticated way of knocking computer networks offline by overwhelming them with a flood of spammed traffic.

“These attacks were relentless, they were systematic, and they were widespread,” U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch told a Washington news conference.

The indictment from a federal grand jury in New York City said the attacks occurred from 2011 to 2013. Washington has previously accused military officers from China and the North Korean government of cyber attacks against U.S. businesses.

The attack on the Bowman Avenue Dam in Rye Brook, New York, was especially alarming, Lynch said, because it marked one of the first known intrusions on critical infrastructure. A stroke of good fortune prevented the hackers from obtaining operational control of the flood gates because the dam had been manually disconnected for routine maintenance, she said.

The Bowman hack was a “game-changing event” for the U.S. government that prompted investigators to uncover other systems vulnerable to similar attacks, said Andre McGregor, a former FBI agent and a lead case investigator on the dam intrusion.

“The investigation’s discovery of many more exposed computer systems with vulnerable management consoles is a constant reminder that basic cyber hygiene remains at the forefront of the battle against cyber attacks,” said McGregor, now director of security at Tanium, a Silicon Valley cyber security firm.

“We must step up our counter-hacking game ASAP to deal with threats from places like Iran and would be terrorists,” said New York Senator Chuck Schumer in a statement.

Cyber security experts and U.S. intelligence officials have grown more alarmed in recent months by the possibility of destructive hacks of critical infrastructure such as dams, power plants, and factories. Some have said a December cyber attack on the Ukraine’s energy grid that caused a temporary blackout of 225,000 should serve as a wake-up call.

LONG MEMORIES

The defendants were identified as Ahmad Fathi, Hamid Firoozi, Amin Shokohi, Sadegh Ahmadzadegan, Omid Ghaffarinia, Sina Keissar, and Nader Seidi, all citizens and residents of Iran. They are accused of conspiracy to commit computer hacking while employed by two Iran-based computer companies, ITSecTeam and Mersad Company.

Firoozi also is charged with obtaining and abetting unauthorized access to a protected computer.

The indictments are the latest attempt by the Obama administration to more publicly confront cyber attacks carried out by other countries against the United States.

The campaign began two years ago when the Justice Department accused five members of China’s People’s Liberation Army with hacking several Pennsylvania-based companies in an alleged effort to steal trade secrets. It continued with President Obama’s vow to “respond proportionally” against North Korea for the destructive hack against Sony Pictures.

“An important part of our cyber security practice is to identify the actors and to attribute them publicly when we can,” Lynch said Thursday. “We do this so that they know they cannot hide.”

U.S. officials largely completed the investigation more than a year ago, according to two sources familiar with the matter, but held off releasing the indictment so as to not jeopardize the landmark 2015 nuclear deal with Iran or a January prisoner swap.

Even though Iran is not expected to extradite the suspects, FBI Director James Comey vowed to pursue justice.

“The world is small and our memory is long,” he said at the news conference with Lynch.

Dmitri Alperovitch, chief technology officer with cyber security firm CrowdStrike, said, “This sends an important message to Iran and other governments that these people cannot operate anonymously.”

The U.S. and Israel launched a cyber attack against Iran in 2010, now famously known as the Stuxnet worm, in order to disable Iran’s nuclear centrifuges. Some security researchers and officials have long suspected that the attacks against U.S. banks and the dam were done in part as retaliation.

Separately, the U.S. Treasury Department blacklisted two Iranian companies in late March for supporting Iran’s ballistic missile program and also sanctioned two British businessmen who it said were helping an airline used by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

Israeli firm uncovers eBay security flaw

By Ilan Gattegno / IsraelHayom.com

Israeli cybersecurity firm Check Point revealed earlier this month that is had discovered a serious flaw in online e-commerce giant eBay’s security, allowing hackers and cyber criminals to use malicious code to target users and steal their online information.

According to Channel 2 News, eBay currently has 160 million registered users worldwide, all of which are at risk.

Check Point, which posted its discovery on the company blog, believes that unless eBay acts to rectify this vulnerability immediately, “eBay’s customers will continue to be exposed to potential phishing attacks and data theft.”

The company had informed eBay of its discovery on Dec. 15, but a month later the e-commerce giant said it “has no plans to fix the vulnerability,” Check Point said.

According to Check Point, all a hacker needs to do to launch a malicious attack is to set up an eBay store, from which he can send users legitimate-looking links that contain malicious code.

This is the second time eBay has been hacked: In May 2014, the platform informed users its servers had been hacked and their information had been compromised, and while it insisted there was no evidence financial information was accessed, it urged all users to change their passwords.

Responding to Check Point’s warning, eBay said: “As a company, we are committed to providing a safe and secure trading platform to our millions of customers worldwide. We take reports suggesting security issues very seriously and work quickly to assess them, as part of our security infrastructure. We consistently adapt our security systems and maintain a responsible system, where we partner with the researchers indicating such issues exist.”

This is not the first time Check Point has warned of security vulnerabilities in popular user interfaces.

In August, the cybersecurity company discovered a flaw in the popular phone messaging application WhatsApp, which allowed hackers to send users vCard contact files infected with malware.

Check Point reported the issue to Facebook, which owns WhatsApp, on Aug. 21 and the flaw was fixed within days.

The Future of Medicine is in Israel

The machine (on this 6-minute video) that the Israelis have created is a miracle and may be miles ahead of anything the U.S. has. The developer reports that it can cure many diseases and conditions without invasive surgery.

While the Islamic world is figuring out how to kill off the rest of world, the Israelis are working on saving all the world! There is no doubt that God blessed this little nation with knowledge way beyond normal technology.

Israeli start-up leads fight against remote car-hacking — video

A chilling demonstration of hackers taking control of a moving vehicle draws attention to Argus

BY David Shamah / TimesOfIsrael.com

As part of their hack, Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek broadcast their cartoon images on the entertainment center display of a Jeep Cherokee driven by Wired's Andy Greeberg
As part of their hack, Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek broadcast their cartoon images on the entertainment center display of a Jeep Cherokee driven by Wired’s Andy Greeberg

Remote-controlled car hacking has arrived — and with it, an important opportunity for Argus, an Israeli cyber-security start-up that currently has the world’s only effective system to detect and prevent the kind of attack demonstrated recently, when a pair of hackers took control of a Jeep Cherokee driving in St. Louis.

“Argus’s mission is to promote car connectivity without compromising on security,” said Tom Bar Av, a spokesperson for the company. “In the Jeep case, as well as in other hacking attempts that have been demonstrated over the past year, our solutions could have played a pivotal role in successfully preventing such attacks from affecting a vehicle’s systems.”

The frightening incident was outlined in an article and accompanying video in Wired magazine, which describes how “white-hat” hackers Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek took control of a Jeep vehicle being driven at top speed by Wired journalist Andy Greenberg. Miller and Valasek turned the radio on full-blast, ran the air conditioner, and even took control of the accelerator — scaring Greenberg to the point where he was forced to “drop any semblance of bravery, grab my iPhone with a clammy fist, and beg the hackers to make it stop.”

The demonstration was an extension of an attack the two hackers undertook in 2013 when they took control of the braking system of a Ford Escape and Toyota Prius – but with laptops connected to the cars’ computers.

In their latest escapade, the two relied entirely on the Jeep’s wifi connection, exploiting a weakness in Chrysler’s Uconnect software, which allows connection to the Internet in hundreds of thousands of Chrysler and Fiat vehicles already on the road. All a hacker has to do is identify a vehicle’s IP address – it has to have one, of course, in order to access the Internet – and the rest is by-the-book scripting, similar to taking control of a remote computer, smartphone, or any other Internet-connected device.

White hat hackers Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek
White hat hackers Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek

Coincidentally, the attack came on the same day that U.S. Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) introduced the The Security and Privacy in Your Car (SPY Car) Act, requiring the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to establish federal standards to secure cars and protect drivers’ privacy.

The Act would also establish a rating system — or “cyber dashboard” — to inform consumers how well the vehicle protects drivers’ security and privacy beyond those minimum standards, similar to the “green” ratings that rank vehicles on how their emissions impact the environment.

“Rushing to roll out the next big thing, automakers have left cars unlocked to hackers and data-trackers,” Blumenthal said. “This common-sense legislation protects the public against cybercriminals who exploit exciting advances in technology like self-driving and wireless-connected cars.”

If the bill becomes law, chances are that at least some car companies will be knocking on the door of Israeli cyber-security start-up Argus, which is developing its Intrusion Prevention System (IPS) system to detect and prevent real-time hacking of connected cars.

Argus Founders from right to left: Zohar Zisapel, Chairman; Oron Lavi, VP R&D; Ofer Ben Noon, CEO; Yaron Galula, CTO.
Argus Founders from right to left: Zohar Zisapel, Chairman; Oron Lavi, VP R&D; Ofer Ben Noon, CEO; Yaron Galula, CTO.

As cars become connected to the Internet and to external devices such as smartphones, smart keys, diagnostic tools, and other vehicles, they are more vulnerable to cyber-attacks, according to Bar Av. With a bit of effort, hackers would even be able to access a vehicle’s Electronic Control Units (ECUs), allowing manipulation of a car’s engine, brakes, airbags, and other safety systems or vehicle components, the company said.

To prevent this, Argus has designed a system that does a thorough analysis of the communication packets (the segments of data) that come into and go out of the vehicle. Because the range of communications in a vehicle’s infrastructure is limited – it’s only supposed to be sending or receiving specific kinds of communication, to specific IP addresses – the analysis can quickly determine if anything is amiss, preventing a vehicle’s critical components from being hacked in real time. The system can be integrated into any vehicle production line, to ensure that it is not tampered with. The system can also generate reports and alerts for remote monitoring of a vehicle’s “cyber health.” The company has R&D facilities in Israel and a center in Michigan to be near the business center of the American automotive industry.

The Argus system, said Bar Av, has gotten a thumbs-up from the U.S. Department of Transportation – the only mobile cyber-security system to have gotten such approval so far. “Argus solutions are ready-to-embed and provide car manufacturers with a real-time Cyber Dashboard, providing them with real-time overview of their fleet’s cyber health and with the ability to detect new threats and quickly respond to cyber attacks,” said Bar Av.

Who’s Protecting Israel? — a physicist speaks

It’s not just the Iron Dome we have to thank.

With the recent onslaught of rocket attacks, Dr. Gerald Schroeder, MIT physicist formerly of the Atomic Energy Commission, puts into perspective a “scientific” approach to understanding Israel’s unusually low casualty rate. Citing a statistical study done regarding the scud missiles fired at Israel during the Gulf War, Dr. Schroeder provides us with a keen insight into the difference God makes when it comes to Israel’s security.

By Dr. Gerald Schroeder / Aish.com

Dr. Gerald Schroeder

About the Author
Dr. Gerald Schroeder earned his BSc, MSc, and double-Ph.D. in Nuclear Physics and Earth and Planetary Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he taught physics for seven years. While a consultant at the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission he participated in the formulation of nuclear non-proliferation treaties with the former Soviet Union and witnessed the testing of six atomic bombs. He has served as a consultant to various governments worldwide and has been published in TIME, Newsweek, and Scientific American. He is the author of Genesis and the Big Bang: The Discovery Of Harmony Between Modern Science And The Bible, now in seven languages. He is also the author of The Science of God and The Hidden Face of God. Dr. Schroeder is currently a lecturer at Aish Jerusalem for the Discovery Seminar, Essentials program, Jerusalem Fellowships, and Executive Learning Center ― focusing on the topics of evolution, cosmology, and age of the universe.

Sinai Speak is an independent Jewish initiative and educational resource that aims to create a unified platform for the leading Jewish educators to spread their wisdom through short, inspirational videos. Through our diverse array of featured speakers, we aim to paint a fuller picture of the spiritual and practical sides of Judaism – and through this appeal to Jewish adults, with their varying background and interests.

Produced by Dovi Halpern and Michael Tintner, founders of Sinai Speak.com — a Jewish initiative dedicated to uniting the best speakers in the Jewish world to spread their wisdom through short, inspirational videos on the same common platform.

Additional viewpoint:
Read the firsthand account of an IDF solider who witnessed God demonstrating His intent to protect Israel.

Kidnappings prompt new Israeli smartphone SOS system

NowForce is opening up its emergency app to all Israelis, a move that could save lives, says a top police officer.

NowForce in action (Photo credit: Courtesy)
NowForce in action (Photo credit: Courtesy)
By David Shamah / TimesOfIsrael.com

Israel’s NowForce, which develops apps to help rescue personnel deal with emergencies, has set up a national emergency alert system that will allow any Israeli to register and use its “SOS app” to call for help when they are in trouble. The system is a response to the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers earlier this month.

According to a top police official, the system could help save lives by making sure that police and rescue workers know that the emergency is a real one that they need to act on immediately. “The app represents the kind of simple and cheap technology, available right now, that can be easily deployed to prevent situations like the recent kidnappings,” according to Arik Yekuel, the former head of technology for the Israel Police.

The network, which went live last week, enables anyone who registers to immediately alert police, local security officials, family members, and emergency response workers when they face an emergency on the road, such as a kidnapping attempt, said NowForce spokesperson Julie Zuckerman. “This app has been available for our subscription clients for several years,” said Zuckerman. “In the wake of the grievous incident, in which three Israeli teens were kidnapped, we decided to release this to the general public for free as a way to boost the personal safety of Israelis all around the country.”

NowForce is well known in the emergency services community. The company’s apps are used by fire and rescue, EMS, campus security groups and law enforcement services around the world. In the U.S., for example, the app is used by fire officials in Boone County, Missouri, to keep track of emergencies in the 500 square mile area they are responsible for. The 250 volunteer firefighters, the only ones available in the area, carry the NowForce app on their mobile phones. The app immediately alerts volunteers in the area when a 911 emergency call comes in reporting a fire. With the app, response times in the mostly rural area are in the two- to four-minute range, far better than they were before the district started using the app, say fire officials.

The emergency app NowForce is offering Israelis includes a big SOS button, which app users press to set the process in motion. Once the button is pressed, the NowForce reporting center will alert responders who are in the area of an emergency, including police, local security officials, and United Hatzalah emergency rescue workers. The app shows them a map of where the incident took place, and provides turn-by-turn instructions to get to the site. It also provides forms, updates and anything else connected to the specific incident, and lets responders take photos, videos and audio recordings of the incident.

The app will also simultaneously call the police and send the caller’s location to his/her emergency contacts and local emergency service providers such as United Hatzalah. “We invite the police and other national and local emergency service providers to take part in this initiative to safeguard Israel’s citizens,” she said.

Zuckerman said that NowForce was including technology to detect and prevent fraud. According Yekuel, 80 percent of calls to police emergency lines are phony. According to reports, one of the youths abducted in the June 12 kidnapping called police and screamed into the phone that he was being kidnapped, but it wasn’t until eight hours later that the IDF received the information. “Obviously there will be some investigation of this when the incident is over, but, as someone who was intensely involved in the emergency phone system, I can guess that the officers in charge thought they were dealing with a crank call because so many of these calls are, especially in the West Bank, where police get many threatening phone calls from Arabs.”

To prevent fraud, users of the app will have to register their phone numbers on the NowForce site and log in to a personal area with a password. There, they can list emergency contacts to be alerted along with rescue personnel when the SOS button is pressed. NowForce plans to stress strongly that the button should be pressed only in the case of a true emergency. “Unfortunately, we cannot totally prevent fraud or stop people from using the app under the wrong circumstances,” said Zuckerman. “But we have been doing this for years and, after having worked with many different kinds of populations, we have developed numerous methods to discourage both kinds of behavior.”

Could an app like NowForce have prevented the three teens from being kidnapped? It’s not clear under what circumstances they were taken, said Yekuel, so it’s impossible to know. “But we have to realize that the devices all of us carry around are very powerful,” he said. “In Israel, and elsewhere, we use some of the most powerful features of these devices, like always-on GPS tracking, for things like mapping and commuting, and we use their connectivity capabilities for social networking. I have no problem with any of those uses, but we have overlooked one of the most obvious benefits of these technologies: the personal safety and security they can help provide. The NowForce effort is a great idea, and hopefully it will be able to prevent future security incidents.”

Watch a video explaining how NowForce works:

Israeli Lunar XPrize Team Shoots for the Moon

By Ben Sales

An illustration of the craft the Israeli startup SpaceIL hopes to land on the moon.
An illustration of the craft the Israeli startup SpaceIL hopes to land on the moon.

TEL AVIV (JTA) — One small step by Israelis could become a giant leap for the State of Israel.

At a Tel Aviv University laboratory, a team of 20 Israelis is building a spacecraft they believe will make Israel only the fourth country — after the United States, Russia, and China — to touch down on the moon.

The project, known as SpaceIL, looks like a long shot. The three-legged hexagonal craft appears too puny for interstellar travel, measuring just 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide. Of the initiative’s three founders, only one holds an academic degree beyond a bachelor’s. And SpaceIL is competing against 17 other teams to win the $20 million Google Lunar XPrize by being the first private spacecraft to land on the moon. The team hopes to land its craft by the end of next year.

Despite the odds, however, the founders exude the confidence of Nobel Prize-winning scientists — and that’s not all that makes the project Israeli. From its origins to its endgame, SpaceIL is a quintessential story of Israel’s upstart high-tech sector.

Its founders came together with little preparation and no money. They overcame a maze of Israeli bureaucracy to qualify for the contest, attracting funding through personal connections to preeminent scientists. And they say they will win the competition not by being the biggest or richest team, but by redefining how to send a spacecraft to the moon.

“Only superpowers have managed to land on the moon,” co-founder Yariv Bash said. “What China did as a nation of 1.3 billion people, SpaceIL is doing as a nonprofit. It puts things in perspective.”

From left, SpaceIL founders Yariv Bash, Yonatan Winetraub and Kfir Damari with Israeli President Shimon Peres at an event in 2011. (Yossef Avi Yair)
From left, SpaceIL founders Yariv Bash, Yonatan Winetraub and Kfir Damari with Israeli President Shimon Peres at an event in 2011. (Yossef Avi Yair)

Launched by Google in 2007, the Lunar XPrize has straightforward rules: The first team to land an unmanned spacecraft on the moon, move it 500 meters — about the length of 5 1/2 football fields — across the moon’s surface and transmit high-definition photos and video back to Earth wins $20 million. The mission must be complete by the end of 2015.

Thirty-three teams registered for the competition and nearly all of the remaining 18 contenders plan to launch tank-like rovers to roll across the moon’s surface, which Bash says is more expensive and will consume more fuel than the SpaceIL craft. SpaceIL expects to spend about $36 million on its mission.

SpaceIL’s craft is the size of a dishwasher and weighs just 300 pounds, two-thirds of which is fuel. Rather than drive across the moon, it will take off again after landing and jump 500 meters. Its navigation system will double as a camera and its steering thrusters will guide its landing.

“Instead of taking a bulky radar system, we’re taking cameras with us, so the best thing is to reuse those cameras,” Bash said. “If I can just write more code for my camera, code doesn’t weigh anything.”

Bash hadn’t even considered entering the competition until 2010. He pushed through government bureaucracy to register SpaceIL as a nonprofit and entered the race on Dec. 31, 2010 — the last day of registration. Yonatan Winetraub, another of the project’s co-founders, connected with Israel Space Agency head Yitzhak Ben Yisrael, who gave the group three minutes on stage at a space technology convention in Tel Aviv.

It was enough to convince philanthropists at the convention to give SpaceIL its seed money and lure Ben Yisrael to join the group’s board. SpaceIL has since received support from Rona Ramon, the widow of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, and casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who gave $16.4 million.

“They’re young people with a lot of vision, with Israeli initiative,” Ben Yisrael said. “If the government sends a craft to space, that’s OK. But when there’s a group of young people that takes on a project that looks like science fiction, to land something on the moon, it’s different. It’s strong.”

SpaceIL has avoided the expensive and labor-intensive approach of some of the other teams, but it’s not the only one to go small. The Penn State Lunar Lion Team, an XPrize team housed at Pennsylvania State University, also is building a small craft that will jump the 500 meters. Team director Michael Paul said small projects like theirs could complement large government initiatives and broaden the reach of space exploration.

“We’ve created a new model that makes space exploration possible through philanthropy,” Paul said. “I don’t know if it’s going to be a dominant piece [of space exploration], but it will be an incredibly important piece in the decades to come. NASA isn’t going away.”

SpaceIL hopes to expand the appeal of space exploration by spreading its message through Israel’s classrooms. The team is investing in a large educational program, lecturing about the program in Israeli classrooms and working with Israel’s Education Ministry to devise a science curriculum based around space travel. Along with reaching the moon, the founders hope to imbue Israel’s next generation with excitement for science and technology.

“We let them know they’re capable of building their own spacecraft,” said the third co-founder, Kfir Damari. “We want to use the story to show that science and technology is exciting, that you can have a huge impact on the world if you’re a scientist and engineer.”

SpaceIL’s team believes it has a good chance of winning. But even if it doesn’t, Damari said landing an Israeli craft on the moon will be reward enough.

“It’s the story of three people who decided one day that they’re landing on the moon,” he said. “Today it’s an Israeli project, but it’s [also] three engineers who wanted to land a spacecraft there, and it’s happening.”

Netanyahu talks up Israeli technology in Japan

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in Japan on a four-day trip aimed at strengthening Israel-Japan relationship • Netanyahu’s meetings include emperor and prime minister, business leaders and economic officials.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara arrive in Japan on Sunday | Photo credit: AFP
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara arrive in Japan on Sunday | Photo credit: AFP

During his time in Japan, Netanyahu will meet with Japanese political leaders, including Emperor Akihito and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. He will also meet with Japanese business leaders and economic officials.

The meetings will focus on Israeli technological developments, particularly in the fields of cyber technology, water conservation, alternative energy, and biotechnology.

At a meeting in Tokyo on Monday with members of the Israel-Japan Parliamentary Friendship League, Netanyahu said, “There is a common bond between us: We’re both democratic, progressive, technological societies. You face North Korea, which is a rogue regime with nuclear weapons. We face the possibility of Iran, which is a rogue regime that wants to have nuclear weapons. They’re cooperating between them, and we should cooperate between us. I want to commend you for keeping the torch of Israeli-Japanese friendship alive, and now it’s growing stronger. And it will grow stronger with this visit. I’m confident of that.”

Israeli on List of World’s Top 35 Innovators Under 35

At 26, Kira Radinsky, Ph.D., is on list of world’s 35 brightest young innovators. ZLM introduced our readers to her in the May 2013 Levitt Letter. Others on list? Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google founders Larry Page, Sergey Brin.

By Lior El-Chai / YNetNews.com

Dr. Kira Radinsky /  Photo: Technion
Dr. Kira Radinsky / Photo: Technion

Dr. Kira Radinsky, 26, completed her Ph.D. this year at the Technion, and has already been selected from among hundreds of candidates and placed on the list of the world’s Top 35 Innovators Under 35 for “being an exceptional inventor and for her leading work in the area of programming.”

Dr. Radinsky, who lives in Zichron Yaakov and is married, served in the IDF’s intelligence corps, and even signed on for an extra year. She began studying at the Technion at the age of 15, joined its exceptional students program, and completed three degrees in Computer Sciences under Professor Shaul Markovitch.

During her studies, she created a new method of prognostication, which could predict events with an average accuracy of 80%, by scanning literature from the past 500 years, including all
material published by The New York Times since 1880 onward, in an attempt to find correlations between different types of events.

Among other things, Dr. Radnisky learned that floods taking place closely following a drought were a preliminary sign of an outbreak of cholera. Today she is involved in an organization that is active against genocide, as well as with medical organizations, in order to implement lessons learned from her research. Research carried out by Dr. Radinsky has earned her awards and recognition from several organizations and bodies, among them Google, Yahoo, and Facebook.

“Over the years, we have succeeded in selecting men and women whose innovations, and the companies they established, deeply influenced different fields and humanity,” explained Jason Pontin, the editor-in-chief and publisher of the MIT Technology Review, which puts together the list. “Among past winners are Larry Page and Sergey Brin, founders of Google; Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook; Jonathan Ive, head designer of Apple; and David Karp, who established Tumblr. We are proud of our finalists and their accomplishments, and proud to add Kira to this respected list.”

“It is a big honor to be included in the MIT list of the young innovators. This is one of the most prestigious prizes that someone my age can receive,” Radinsky said. “I really hope my win will encourage other young people to go into research, and that they will chose to do things that will influence all of our lives.”