Israel eases rules on cyber weapons exports despite criticism

Robie de Guzman   •   August 23, 2019   •   362

Monitor reading ‘Cybergym, you’ve been hacked’ | Courtesy: Reuters

Israel, one of the world’s leading suppliers of spyware, is easing export rules on offensive cyber weapons, despite accusations by human rights and privacy groups that its technologies are used by some governments to spy on political foes and crush dissent.

The United Nations and rights groups are calling for stricter oversight, while in Israel, things seem to be moving in the opposite direction.

The government is offering exemptions in the export licensing process, it is planning a reform in regulation, and in general is trying to remove red tape for selling technologies abroad, government and industry officials told Reuters.

From around the world, teams come to Cybergym, a cyber-warfare training facility backed by the Israel Electric Corporation. There experts learn to defend utilities and critical infrastructure from a growing number of cyber attacks. Cybergym’s CEO, Ofir Hason, said Israel is a leader in the field, not just in thwarting such attacks, but also in offensive capabilities. And when it comes to exporting sophisticated surveillance technologies, he said, there is always a risk they will be misused.

Israel is not the only game in town but its surveillance technologies have been linked to allegations of foreign governments spying on journalists, dissidents and critics.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made clear he has no intention to over-regulate, even though he acknowledged the risks.

Global demand for offensive cyber systems is on the rise. Few countries are able to develop sophisticated surveillance tools on their own, so Israel’s expertise has enticed foreign governments. Israel would never acknowledge whether this includes countries without formal ties, although Israeli technologies have been linked to scandals in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Tel Aviv University Professor Isaac Ben Israel, the father of Israel’s cyber sector and chairman of its space agency, said there was nothing wrong with using these skills to form a bond with neighbours like Saudi Arabia that have shunned formal ties.

Asked if there have ever been problems with exporters, Ben Israel said there have been some instances when licensed companies “cheated a little bit” and withheld information such as which groups would be receiving the hacking tools.

The head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency said cyber warfare is becoming more prominent in the global arena. But he called on private tech companies to coordinate closely with the government to make sure innocent people are not targeted. (Reuters)

(Production; Elana Ringler, Rami Amichay)

Like Pac-Man, innovative Israeli coronavirus mask gobbles food

UNTV News   •   May 19, 2020

Israeli inventors have developed a coronavirus mask that allows diners to eat food without taking it off, a device that could make a visit to a restaurant less risky.

A squeeze of a lever, much like a cyclist operates a handbrake, opens a slot in the front of the mask so that food can pass through.

The process could get messy with ice cream or sauces, but more solid morsels can be gobbled up in a flash in the style of Pac-Man in the iconic video game.

“The mask will be opened mechanically by hand remote or automatically when the fork is coming to the mask,” said Asaf Gitelis, vice president of Avtipus Patents and Inventions, who demonstrated the device at its offices near Tel Aviv.

“Then you can eat, enjoy, drink and you take out the fork and it will be closed, and you’re protected against the virus and other people sitting with you.”

The company said it plans to start manufacturing the mask within months and had already submitted a patent. It said it would likely sell at a 3 to 10 shekel ($0.85 to $2.85) premium above the price of the simple pale blue medical masks many Israelis wear.

Outside a juice bar in Tel Aviv, Reuters showed a cellphone video of the mask in action. Opinion was divided.

“I think this mask that enables me to eat while I’m still wearing it, it’s a must have,” said Ofir Hameiri, a 32-year-old graduate student.

But maskless and eating an ice cream cone, Ron Silberstein, a 29-year-old musician, said: “I don’t think this mask could hold this kind of ice cream – it’s dripping all over. I wouldn’t want to wear it afterward”.

Israel has largely reopened its economy after a dramatic drop in cases of the novel coronavirus. But restaurants are open only for takeout for the time being. (Reuters)

(Production: Eli Berlzon, Rami Amichai, Rinat Harash, Jeffrey Heller)

Israel’s Supreme Court clears Netanyahu to form government despite corruption charges

UNTV News   •   May 7, 2020

Photo of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and head of the Blue and White party Benny Gantz signing an agreement to form an emergency coalition government

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s indictment on corruption charges does not disqualify him from forming a government, Israel’s top court said late on Wednesday (May 6), paving the way for the veteran leader to remain in power.

In its ruling against opposition petitioners, the Supreme Court also found that Netanyahu’s unity government deal with his election rival Benny Gantz does not violate the law, dismissing arguments that it unlawfully shields him in a corruption trial.

The ruling removes a critical legal hurdle to the coalition government the right-wing Netanyahu and centrist Gantz plan to swear in next week, following three inconclusive elections in the past year.

It also moves the country closer to ending its political deadlock as it grapples with the coronavirus crisis and its economic fallout.

Netanyahu was indicted in January on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He denies any wrongdoing in all three cases. (Reuters)

(Production: Eli Berklzon, Rami Amichay, Lee Marzel)

Israeli firm treats COVID-19 patient using placenta therapy

Aileen Cerrudo   •   April 23, 2020

An Israeli regenerative medicine company that is developing a platform of novel biological therapeutic products has announced that they were able to treat their first coronavirus disease (COVID-19) patient in New Jersey, USA under the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Single Patient Expanded Access Program, also known as a compassionate use program.

In a statement, Pluristem Therapeutics Inc. said the treatment is “part of the U.S. Coronavirus Treatment Acceleration Program (CTAP), an emergency program for possible therapies that uses every available method to move new treatments to patients as quickly as possible.”

Pluristem said the patient was administered a treatment called Placental expanded (PLX) cell therapy.

The company added that the patient was critically ill with respiratory failure due to acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) prior to the PLX treatment.

The patient was also under mechanical ventilation in an intensive care unit (ICU) for three weeks.

Pluristem CEO and President Yaky Yanay said they are now focusing on the initiation of a multinational clinical study.

“In parallel with our planned clinical trial, we expect to continue treating patients under compassionate use through the appropriate regulatory clearances in the United States and Israel, as well as expanding treatment under compassionate use in other countries,” he said. AAC

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