Jerusalem24 – Israeli cyber firm Toka is selling technologies that allow its clients to hack into nearby security cameras or private webcams and alter their feed, an investigation by Israeli daily Haaretz has revealed.
The technology makes use of “untapped [Internet of Things] sensors” – meaning, web-connected cameras and even car media systems – to locate cameras within a given perimeter, watch their live feed, and proceed with audio and visual modifications.
The firm boasts this allows for the “masking of on-site activities” during “covert operations”, according to internal documents obtained by Haaretz.
The technology also allows for the alteration of archived footage in addition to live video feeds – all without leaving a trace.
Toka was founded in 2018 by former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and former cyber chief of the Israeli army Brigadier General Yaron Rosen, according to Haaretz.
However, an October 2020 Globes article announcing Toka had secured $25 million in financing (from investors including Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz as well as Dell Technologies Capital) to “develop cutting-edge and lawful intelligence-gathering platforms” makes no mention of Barak.
According to the documents obtained by Haaretz, Toka has $6 million worth of contracts with Israel (with an “expansion of existing deployment” on the horizon), and works exclusively with state clients in government, intelligence bodies and law enforcement agencies, most of them in the West.
Toka is one of a number of Israeli cyber firms that have come to international attention – and landed in hot water – in recent years.
While multiple states worldwide have been exposed as clients of various Israeli spyware firms, and while these firms tend to eschew responsibility for the use made of their technologies, various companies such as the now-infamous NSO Group have provoked public and state outrage when their software was linked to the high-profile hacking of journalists or human rights defenders, including two women close to murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
In response, NSO Group was blacklisted by the US Department of Commerce, preventing it from making use of American technologies necessary to maintain its operations.
Most recently, US Congressmen have sought answers over the FBI’s use of spyware sold by NSO as well as Israeli firm Paragon.
Axios revealed earlier this year that Israeli officials had been “pushing” the Biden administration to remove NSO from its blacklist, underscoring the affiliation between the Israeli state and its private security firms, a large number of which are run by current members of the military or security establishment, or – as in the case of Ehud Barak – politicians.
Without a trace
Toka’s technologies may be of particular cause for concern, however.
Unlike other Israeli-developed spyware technologies such as NSO’s Pegasus or Intellexa’s Predator, Toka’s software leaves no digital traces on the devices it hacked, according to technical documents reviewed by a hacker hired by Haaretz.
Human rights lawyer Alon Sapir told Haaretz: “These are capabilities that were previously unimaginable. This is a dystopian technology from a human rights perspective. Just its mere existence raises serious questions.”
And Sapir is concerned Palestinians in the occupied West Bank may find themselves the unwitting casualties of such capabilities. “There have been cases in which video evidence helped refute false claims made by settlers and soldiers, and helped save innocent Palestinians from jail. We’ve also seen cases in which video evidence has been tampered with in the past.”
“The West Bank is Israel’s defense establishment testing ground – and a scenario in which Toka’s tech is deployed unbeknownst to anyone is simply terrifying.”