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How Israel Built One Of The World’s Most Powerful Cyber Armies

The small country has assembled one of the best team of government hackers ever, and fostered a successful private cybersecurity sector.

by Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai
Nov 22 2016, 7:20pm

In the last few years, along with the United States, UK, China and Russia, Israel has become a superpower in the world of government hacking and cyber espionage.

Israeli cyberspies are believed to have worked with NSA hackers to develop Stuxnet, the world's first cyberweapon. And many of its cyberspies and warriors have moved to the private sector to launch companies worth hundreds of millions of dollars that have a footprint all over the globe, such as Cellebrite or the NSO Group. How did such a small country become such a big player in the world hacking stage?

At the core of Israel's success in cyberspace is a military intelligence corps named Unit 8200, which specializes in sophisticated hacking and espionage operations. Young Israeli geeks vie to get into Unit 8200 to have a chance to work within a team tasked with carrying out cutting-edge missions, and the license to hack and spy on almost anyone.

"You get 18 or 19-year-olds to deal with the most exciting stuff that anyone can deal with, espionage!" said Ronen Bergman, an investigative journalist at Yedioth Ahronoth.

After they leave service, they can leverage the experience and prestige of Unit 8200 to get practically any cybersecurity job or get funding to launch a company. That's why kids in high school dream about joining Unit 8200, and that's why the Israeli government has set up a program to nurture and recruit high school kids interested in computers.

We travelled to Israel to learn how the country became a hacking superpower in this week's CYBERWAR episode. We visited one of these high schools, and talked to kids who want to cyber warriors when they grow up. You can watch a preview of the episode above.

And you can watch the on VICELAND on Tuesday, at 10:30 PM ET/PT. As an appetizer, read some of Motherboard's past stories about Israel and cybersecurity.

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