Tag Archives: cyber security

Debunking the “8200”, “81” and other #### ex-Israeli Army Intelligence myth

I’m a known and pretty vocal advocate of self learning, self starting, and inquisitive entrepreneurial spirit. As such, I’ve witnessed over my years in the security industry, a lot of occasions where the halo or myth surrounding some so-called “elite” units in the Israeli Army Intelligence has blinded people.
Such blindness comes from a very small percentage of people who capitalized on what used to be highly selective knowledge and experience in a narrow field of practice. But that was almost 20 years ago. Companies like Checkpoint, Nice, and Amdocs, were all started by alumni of such intelligence units, who basically applied their specific experience from the army signals intelligence unites to building firewall systems, telecom and spy/monitoring technologies.

Nowadays, the reality could not be further from this. What used to be a very specific skill-set and knowledge, is mostly open, and freely accessible to anyone with the right aptitude to pick up and master. Back in the days you had to earn your “hacker cred” in order to get access to the forums where people were sharing knowledge, today most of that “exclusive/unique” knowledge is wide open and available.

And today I ran across an article that infuriated me because of its ignorance. Enter: “The cyber labor market in Israel, the cyber guild“. In this article, the author claims, again, that the “ex-#” alumni phenomenon is filling the Israeli market and basically owning it to a point where non-guild members are shunned out. It claims that whereas information and knowledge should (or is?) open, in the guild market it matters more where you came from than what you actually know and have experience with.

I respectfully call BS on this. It’s just not the reality anymore. Yes, there is an obvious alumni network effect, but such that is just as common with other alumni organizations (think Ivy-league Universities, local schools, or any other melting-pot where people get to know one another). But the “guild” part is just wrong. It’s actually the complete opposite. After the initial success of the early founders, the “Ex-#” units basked in the glow and enjoyed a fairly long streak of alumni that only had to mention their unit’s name (or even not that – just to keep things more hush-hush) in order to nail a high-paying job. However, with such high expectations, the failures became more apparent. And then the realization – that 8200, which is the largest unit (people-wise) in the Army, does not actually employ thousands of talented programmers and hackers. That a huge percentage of it are grunt workers, pushing papers, poring over analyst reports, and operating the collection and dissemination processes and technologies. Glorified IT support in most cases. And with that, the sham evolved. The “friend brings friend” system worked most of the time when the initial friend was one of the actually few talented alumni, who brought their few talented friends. The rest ended up blowing the bubble out of proportion, and infusing the industry with the glorified IT technicians. And the industry balked fairly quickly. I have personally witnessed companies hurting and buckling under the cost of incompetent alumni recruitment, and eventually realize their mistake and quietly ditch those. I have personally interviewed tens (if not hundreds) of people, and very quickly realized (again – after making a few trust mistakes myself) that my gut feeling and personal assessment of ones personality is more consistent than their alleged history in a “famous” unit.

I have personally mentored extremely talented people who had to fight for their place, had to learn programming languages and platforms, gain their experience in the real world, and become some of the more sought after talents out there. At the same time I’ve seen the “ex-#” alumni stagnate at dead-end jobs because they could not scale beyond their alleged field of expertise. The market is highly capitalistic out there. It won’t tolerate too much of the halo effect, and albeit huge efforts in fueling that effect through several alumni organizations, and alumnus in executive positions, this doesn’t really hold. If you are looking for innovation and “thinking outside the box” maybe try to look for people who have not been indoctrinated in a very strict environment to perform a very narrow task. Look for people with broad experience, from different paths of life, who share core traits – curiosity, innovation, drive, and the ability to say “I don’t know”. That’s how the modern market operates. There is no guild. And if you are led to believe so – try to see who/what is it that gave you that impression. You’ll be quick to learn that it is mostly self-serving marketing created to favor the less talented who need to rely on riding the coattails of the successful few. Who by the way – were mostly self-taught and would have made it without having the “ex-#” experience đŸ˜‰

“To the full extent of their capabilities”

Took me a while to clear up time and read Dave Aitel’s post on his experience with the NSA as compared to the interview that Edward Snowden did with James Bamford of Wired. Make sure you do too, and then come back here for a quick reality adjustment.

So, just to set things straight: I agree with the first point that talk about how working at the NSA consists of abiding with a metric ton of rules, regulations and bureaucratic nightmares. It’s also true for most modern western intelligence agencies (your mileage may vary of course, and this is based on personal subjective observations of course).

However, the NSA (and other agencies in other countries) know very well how to bypass these restrictions, and are very happy to use 3rd party resources to do the dirty work for them. That’s exactly how shady (again – my opinion) companies work in the market of intelligence collections, “lawful interception”, exploit research and development, etc.

This also enables overcoming the difficulties posed by the second point in the article, which pertains to the US’s ability to spy on China (and other countries). In order to provide a more cohesive intelligence landscape, you can’t just focus collection efforts on military and government, as civilian infrastructure is always part of the play for both sides (hey – we just talked about using 3rd parties for intelligence. Guess what? The same thing happens with other countries). As such, “crossing the line” is a needed practice that is often outsourced in terms of liability, legality and ethics, to entities that are willing to take said liability/legality/ethics upon themselves.

And just to steal the closing soundbite: “Every country in the world is engaged in cyber espionage to the full extent of its capabilities. The US just happens to be the one that got caught. This time.

Radio Interview with Galatz [Hebrew]

Following is my radio interview with Galatz’s “Security Belt” programme where we discuss Cyber Security issues, the political and diplomatic aspects of them, and the recent attacks on Israeli sites as a result of the Terror attacks on Israel and the resulting conflicts it spawned.

The show’s website can be found here.