Israel Mobilizes Tech Talent Through Unit 8200
The young alumni of Unit 8200 have made Israel a global player in cybersecurity. The unit is a model for building functional institutions that overcome demographic and geopolitical constraints.
Unit 8200 is the unit of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) responsible for signals intelligence. With 5000 active duty soldiers, it is the largest military intelligence unit in the IDF. It handles open-source intelligence, threat assessment, cryptanalysis, and cyberwarfare. In terms of technical expertise, Unit 8200 has been described by experts as on par with the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA),1 which has a budget and personnel that, though classified, is most likely ten times larger than the unit’s. Although unconfirmed, Unit 8200 is widely speculated to be jointly responsible with the NSA for the famous Stuxnet computer malware that crippled one-fifth of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges in the 2000s.2 But the unit’s impact goes far beyond state-level cyberwarfare: alumni of Unit 8200 have founded hundreds of cybersecurity companies, including Check Point, CyberArk, and the controversial NSO Group, as well as successful consumer tech startups like Viber and Waze. Israel exported $11 billion in cybersecurity technology in 20213— nearly 10% of the global market4—and as of 2021, the country had more startup “unicorns” per capita than any country in the world.5 A 2018 study of Israeli cybersecurity founders estimated that 80% of those surveyed had experience in IDF intelligence.6