Mysterious UAE Cyber Firm Luring ex-Israeli Intel Officers With Astronomical Salaries

Should graduates of Israel Defense Forces technology units be able to use the knowledge and skills they gained during their service to work for an Arab cyber firm with close ties to a dictatorial regime that does not have diplomatic relations with Israel?

Strange as the question may sound, there is growing evidence that such a thing is occurring. Even though it is not widespread, some say the defense establishment is growing increasingly worried.

– Haaretz Weekly Ep. 44

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 44Haaretz

DarkMatter, a cybersecurity company formed in 2015 in Abu Dhabi, part of the United Arab Emirates, officially limits itself to cyber defense. But according to a Reuters expose published earlier this year, DarkMatter provides hacking services to the UAE intelligence agency against Western targets, journalists and human rights activists.

The company operates an office in Cyprus, which among other things employs Israeli software developers. “That is de facto smuggling of Israeli intellectual property without any supervision of the [Israel Defense Ministry’s] Defense Export Controls Agency,” said one source in the Israeli cyber intelligence sector, who asked to be identified only as Y. “They’re taking these young people to Cyprus, buying them off with huge salaries.”

Cyberattack researchers’ job is to find vulnerabilities in software and networks in order to break into them. Those with the skills, often acquired while serving in elite units, command some of the highest salaries in Israeli high-tech. Y. claimed DarkMatter pays even more.

“I know of researchers who were tempted with salaries of close to $1 million a year,” he said. DarkMatter did not provide a comment by press time.

In March, The New York Times reported that in 2017 the Israeli cyber intelligence company NSO suffered a wave of employee departures, all veterans of the IDF’s vaunted 8200 unit.