Former Israeli spy chief and team of elite hackers form cybersecurity firm

TEL AVIV (Reuters) - Retired Mossad chief Tamir Pardo said he has assembled a team of more than 30 hackers from Israel’s security and intelligence services into a startup called XM Cyber that seeks to keep companies’ networks safe by imitating how real hackers work.

FILE PHOTO - Director of the Mossad, Tamir Pardo arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem February 22, 2015. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

Pardo, who headed the Israeli spy agency from 2011-2016, started XM Cyber two years ago and serves as its president.

“I thought there are so many companies with great products but they are not focusing on the right question,” Pardo told Reuters. “The real question is are my crown jewels really protected.”

Pardo brought with him hackers that were on the offence teams of Israel’s security services, including the Mossad, the Shin Bet and the army’s elite 8200 unit.

Many companies assemble so-called red teams of hackers to find vulnerabilities in their networks but this option is expensive and once they leave, their findings can quickly become outdated as corporate networks are constantly changing.

Pardo, who while at the Mossad initiated the idea for a fund to help develop new spy techniques that was launched in 2017, said his company’s platform continuously simulates attacks and exposes a network’s blind spots.

“We built a machine that sits on site doing the job done by human hackers,” Pardo said, adding that the technology provides protection by blocking a network’s holes.

XM Cyber raised $15 million, mostly from Israeli billionaire Shaul Shani, who sold his Brazilian company Global Village Telecom to Vivendi for $4.5 billion in 2009.

The company has customers in Europe, Israel and the United States in insurance, banking and critical infrastructure, though Pardo declined to name them.

“By the end of the year we will have more than 30 paying customers,” Pardo said.

Reporting by Tova Cohen; Editing by Steven Scheer and Louise Heavens