This article was first published by The Times of Israel and was re-posted with permission.
The offices of White-Hat, a cyber-security firm in the heart of Tel Aviv, contain the typical trappings of a startup: workers waltz in at all hours on electric scooters or bikes, a ping pong table dominates the large open space and rows of desks with computers jostle each other around the sides of the room, to promote teamwork.
This startup different, though. None of the workers, except for the managers, agrees to have their photos taken and quickly cover their faces with their hands. That’s because they are hackers and they know the dangers of having your photos posted on social media or anywhere else. Once you are out there, on the web, anything is possible. Moreover, most of them are graduates of the Israeli army’s elite intelligence units and prefer to remain in the shadows.
These hackers know the shady secrets that lurk in that online universe called the dark or deep web, a world that works in parallel to the internet we know in a realm most of us are thankfully unaware of. It is a zone where users can surf anonymously and largely without a trace, and it is populated by arms dealers, pedophiles, terrorists and cyber criminals, among others. You can hire a hit man on the dark web, or buy a stolen credit card, and do it without leaving a footprint.
White-Hat’s hackers, mostly young men and women who joined after serving in the intelligence units of the Israeli army, live in this world and man the office desk 24/7. They plow through the web, set up false and numerous virtual identities, or so-called online avatars; they infiltrate hacker groups and forums to discover planned cyber-attacks, then prepare their clients before they occur. Watching them work is a bit like watching the latest season of “Homeland” or the movie “Snowden”: their screens are filled with diagrams and dots that connect one person or event to many, many others.
“Our company deals with civilian cyber intelligence,” said Sharon Nimirovski, the CEO of the 4-year-old, 34-employee firm. The White-Hat hackers – white hats in the cyber world symbolize the good guys — collect intelligence about criminal or ransom attacks the black hat hackers — or the bad guys — are plotting.
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“When you use hackers as hunters you get results,” Nimirovski said.
Instead of the firewall or antivirus products offered by many other cybersecurity firms, White-Hat offers a service performed by its hackers.
“People are the core of the company,” said 29-year old Reut Menashe, White-Hat’s chief technology officer and head of its hackers team. “We don’t sell a product, but a service. Our product is intelligence.”
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