An Israeli surveillance firm that reportedly exploits weaknesses in mobile phone networks to spy on calls, texts, and location information. The company that is registered in Cyprus and operates from Bulgaria, was founded by two Israelis Boaz Goldman and Tal Dilian in 2011. Registered in Cyprus and operating from Bulgaria allows the company to take advantage of even weaker export regulations than from Israel.
Circles was an independent intelligence agency vendor up until 2014, when it was acquired by private equity company Francisco Partners for $130 million and merged into a larger surveillance company. That umbrella organization also included the Israeli company, NSO Group, who developed Pegasus.
The technique used by the Circles snooping tech is known as Signaling System 7 (SS7) exploitation, a powerful yet difficult-to-detect tool in government spy arsenals.
The company’s operation were exposed in a report by Citizen Lab in December 2020.Running in Circles Uncovering the Clients of Cyberespionage Firm Circles
Many of the countries listed as likely Circles customers have a track record of using surveillance tools against dissidents and activists, Citizen Lab claimed.Running in Circles Uncovering the Clients of Cyberespionage Firm Circles
A lawsuit in 2018 against Circles filed by Israeli lawyers Alaa Mahajna and Muhammad Dahleh, gave an example of at least one case where the manager of Circles Technologies, looked to sell the company’s spyware to high-ranking government members of the UAE, hacked four requested phones and sent the data to the client.Lawsuit Asks to Restrict Sales of Israeli Spyware
Other companies that were founded and owned by Tal Dilian, the founder of Circles are:
- Cytrox – founded in 2017. developed the spyware technology “Predator”. Has clients in Greece, Serbia, Germany, Egypt, Armenia, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Colombia, Ivory Coast, Vietnam and Philippines. Among others journalists were targeted using Cytrox tools.Predator by Cytrox: Spyware discovered on phone of Greek journalist
- Intellexa -is described as “a marketing label for a range of mercenary surveillance vendors that emerged in 2019.” They develop and sell surveillance tools and malware that is intended for international law enforcement agencies. Headquarter in Greece.Leaked Docs Show Spyware Firm Offering iOS, Android Hacking Services for $8 Million
- WiSpear – launched in 2016. Developes Wi-Fi interception technology and steals data.Israeli spy-tech CEO wanted for questioning by Cypriot police
Use by Israeli Forces
Israel is one of the countries listed as Circles customers in the report of Citizen Lab. According to Citizen Lab, the system was used by Israel at least at some point, but details about this use are limited.Running in Circles Uncovering the Clients of Cyberespionage Firm Circles
The Israeli Military Connection
Tal Dilian – colonel in reserves in the Israeli Army, served as Chief Commander of the army’s Technological Unit. Dilian also served in multiple positions in the Intelligence Corps headquarters.Tal Dillian website – About Tal Dillian is also the founder and owner of other Cyberspionage and surveillance companies as Intellexa, Cytrox (that developed the Predator) and WiSpear (renamed Passitora).