Israeli government hackers were recently able to do something few others have been able to manage: They hacked the Islamic State.
The nation’s cyber sleuths were — according to The New York Times — a significant force behind a recent hack that laid bare the secrets of ISIS bomb builders.
Israeli hackers learned that bomb designers were focused on constructing explosives that look a hell of a lot like laptop batteries, built to make it through airport x-ray machines. (This, by the way, is the intel that United States President Donald Trump spilled to Russian government officials at the White House not too long ago).
The hackers were able to pull this off because they have one of the most streamlined and sophisticated state cyber operations on the planet.
The large majority of Israeli citizens must serve in the military for several years from the time they turn 18, and many Israeli teenagers begin training to be a part of their nation’s cyber elite two years earlier, at 10 high schools across the country.
Those high schools, along with other after-school programs, act as a pipeline for the more computer-savvy Israelis to gain acceptance into Unit 8200, the cyber unit of Israel’s military which doubles as the military’s single largest unit. That pipeline led to a partnership with their American counterparts in which they developed the planet’s first cyber weapon. Stuxnet, as it’s known, was used to disrupt and destroy parts of Iran’s nuclear program, and is now memorialized in a plethora of articles that describe how it altered cyber warfare.
Those who pass through Unit 8200 have good reason to stick with cyber after their military careers, too. The skills learned there, combined with the reputation of the place, has translated to jobs in Silicon Valley and Israel’s own burgeoning start-up scene.
Sometimes the transition is cyclical. Cellebrite, an Israeli cyber firm, gained brief American celebrity status for allegedly helping the FBI unlock an iPhone related to the 2015 San Bernardino shooting, even though the story turned out to be false. Nonetheless, the firm does have contracts with the FBI as well as other U.S. agencies such as the military, the Secret Service, Customs and Border Protection, and the Drug Enforcement Agency that allow those agencies to reach out to Cellebrite whenever they need to break into a hard-to-crack digital device.
Israel is a nation with a population roughly the size of New York City, but its hackers went global a long time ago.