OK, that headline was a bit extreme. There’s only three known sex offenders in Unit 8200. But there are quite a few hackers with dubious pedigrees who’ve been press-ganged into military service there according to the Telegraph:
Israel demonstrated its intent to conquer cyber warfare in the 1990s by presenting the country’s legions of hackers with a choice between prison and working for the state.
Thousands are said to have signed up since then and have been incorporated into the defence forces Unit 8200. In the intelligence community it is regarded as a singularly Israeli act of bravura that has given the country an edge in a world that has been rapidly immersed in cross border technology attacks.
Hackers, who invariably learn their skills engaging in illegal activity as teenagers, offer key advantages to countries seeking to defend against cyber warfare, or go on the offensive against an enemy.
The Negev desert based Unit 8200 has evolved from the signal intelligence arm of the Israeli military into a respected leader in high technology warfare.
It’s being mighty charitable to call dragooning computer criminals into military service “an act of bravura.” I’d call it closer to the strategy of the Berlin police department in the film, M, where it enlists rapists, pedophiles and stick-up artists to find the murderer of a young girl. And the question is: do you want former criminals with borderline pasts and personalities leading you country’s efforts to keep it safe from the really bad guys?
Here’s an example of what some of that borderline personality brings to the table. Haaretz reports that a soldier in the unit has been accused in court of sexual harrassment for video calls he made on his cell phone. A girl went to her local police station complaining that she was receiving video calls from a number she didn’t recognize in which a man exposed himself and engaged in a sex act. The suspect is a Haredi Jew from Bnai Brak.
The article continues (in Hebrew):
This isn’t the first time soldiers serving in Unit 8200 have been accused of such crimes. Last December, a First Lieutenant in the unit was arrested on suspicion of engaging in acts of pedophilia through the internet…The officer explained that he was a babysitter for children during which time he exploited the situation to engage in such acts.
Last July, another officer in the unit was arrested after he assaulted two young women in the street.
Lest anyone think I’m claiming Unit 8200 is composed of the dregs of Israeli society, of course that isn’t entirely true. Clearly, creating malware as complex and ambitious as Stuxnet, if it was created by the IDF, is not something written by a ‘script-kiddie.’ It’s very serious work composed by very serious programmers. But I am trying to point out that Israel’s culture of going for broke in its pursuit of tactical objectives; and its willingness to break societal norms and lower the inhibitions to engage in such acts of sabotage, piracy and even violence, lead you inexorably to stories like the ones above. Recruiting anti-social hackers for military service makes perfect sent for a country many consider anti-social (or even sociopathic) in international terms.
Returning to the computer worm, Stuxnet, reputed to be the handiwork of some of these fine lads, China is reporting a massive infestation of the pest, which is reputed to have caused great damage:
A computer virus dubbed the world’s “first cyber superweapon” by experts and which may have been designed to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities has found a new target — China.
The Stuxnet computer worm has wreaked havoc in China, infecting millions of computers around the country, state media reported this week.
…“Once Stuxnet successfully penetrates factory computers in China, those industries may collapse, which would damage China’s national security,” he added.
Another unnamed expert at Rising International said the attacks had so far infected more than six million individual accounts and nearly 1,000 corporate accounts around the country, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
Another Chinese source consulted in the article downplayed the seriousness of the threat. This repeats a pattern seen in Iran in which government officials acknowledge serious damage to the country’s nuclear facilities from the worm only to be contradicted by other sources. I’m inclined to credit the sources acknowledging damage as these are the types of countries which would be loathe to present a vulnerable face to the world.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.