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Saudi Arabia investing aggressively in Israeli cyber espionage companies: Report

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Saudi Arabian authorities are reportedly investing hugely in Israeli companies that specialize in cyber espionage tools in order to track down political opponents. And tap their conversations. (Illustrative photo)

A report reveals that Saudi Arabian authorities are investing hugely in Israeli companies that specialize in developing cyber espionage tools, in a move that could help Riyadh hunt down dissidents and opponents of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS).

The opposition Saudi Leaks website, citing informed sources who asked not to be named, reported that Saudi officials have signed contracts with the Israeli firms, which include spending millions of dollars annually in order to acquire the most sophisticated cyber espionage and surveillance technologies.

The sources said the growing clandestine relations between Saudis and Israeli cyber espionage companies are meant to prepare the way for the implementation of the so-called CyberIC plan, which is claimed to be aimed at protecting the kingdom's cybersecurity sector.

The launch of the plan was announced by Saudi Arabia’s National Cybersecurity Authority  (NCA) earlier this week. 

The security entity, which is directly linked to the king's office, said in a statement that the program aims to develop and build national capabilities in the field of cybersecurity, localize cybersecurity technology and training content and stimulate the wider domestic cybersecurity sector.

Last month, Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz reported that an Israeli company had sold cyber-espionage tech to Saudi Arabia, enabling the kingdom to track down political dissidents and pro-democracy campaigners and tap their communications.

 The Israeli newspaper, citing sources and documents, reported on June 8 that Quadream, led by a former Israeli military intelligence official, had been selling its services to Saudi Arabia for years.

The report said the company uses a front in Cyprus to sell its Reign spyware, which apparently extracts data from iPhones, remotely controls the camera, and eavesdrops and tracks the locations of the device users without their knowledge.

Such sensitive technology, it said, can be exported under the supervision of Israeli military experts.

The newspaper, citing a source, said the buyers include countries that are considered oppressive by the international community, including Saudi Arabia. Quadream has been working with Riyadh since 2019.

Back in early December 2018, the Washington Post newspaper reported that Tel Aviv was directly involved in the sale of sophisticated spyware to Saudi Arabia to help the kingdom purge and assassinate dissidents.

The Post said Israel’s ministry of military affairs had authorized the NSO Group to sell Pegasus, a patch of highly complicated software used for hacking and espionage, to the Saudi kingdom.

The report said the sale was carried out through a subsidiary of the NSO in Luxembourg. The firm, officially known as Q Cyber Technologies, enabled Riyadh to target individuals and entities in six Middle Eastern countries.

Saudi Arabia has expanded its secret ties to Israel under bin Salman. The kingdom’s de facto ruler has made it clear that he and the Israelis stand on the same front to counter Iran in the Middle East.

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