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EDITORIAL: Israel on Thursday led a 10-country simulation of a major cyber attack on global financial system by “sophisticated players” that, it said, was aimed at minimizing any potential damage to financial markets. Participants in the event titled “Collective Strength”, included treasury officials from the US, the UK, the UAE, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, the Netherlands and Thailand as well as representatives from the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and Bank for International Settlements.

The demonstration featured several scenarios of attacks on foreign exchange and bond markets, liquidity, integrity of data and transactions between importers and exporters, leading to global financial chaos. Israeli finance ministry’s chief economist who headed her country’s team told the participants the exercise was “further evidence of Israel’s global leadership” in the field of financial cyber defence, though one might add to that remark by saying that Israel can also rightfully claim to be the global leader in the field of hacking.

After all, one of its cyber-surveillance firms, the NSO Group, supervised by the defence ministry, has the distinction of producing Pegasus, which has come to be recognised as “the most powerful piece of spyware ever developed.” It can infiltrate a target device’s microphone, track calls, collect passwords and photos, track location, and harvest information from apps without the user clicking on a compromised link.

Tried and tested in the occupied Palestinian territories, Pegasus has since been provided by NSO to foreign governments having a known record of human rights violations and abuses, such as certain Gulf autocracies, and India. The Israeli experience with the Palestinians surely comes in handy for New Delhi that has decided to use this new ammunition with a view to perpetuating its rule over Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir.

Prime minister Narendra Modi’s government has also used it to spy on many of its own citizens, including journalists and opposition leaders like Rahul Gandhi and even a key election official, Ashok Lavasa, seen as a nuisance. Investigation by a group of 17 international media organisations and Amnesty International has also revealed that a list of surveillance targets for countries that bought NSO software included the phone number of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan. In fact anyone and everyone is a potential target. Even tech giants like the Facebook-owned WhatsApp, and Microsoft have not been spared. They are in litigation with NSO over the hacking issue.

According to those keeping an eye on the cyber scene, Israel has the most surveillance companies per capita than any other country. It is no surprise therefore that it now boasts the capability to counter cyber attack on the world financial system. But in an era of big power rivalries what is the guarantee it would not make a selective use of the new technology to damage the financial security of those on the other side of the divide, or of countries which oppose its occupation of Arab lands?

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021


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