Circles is 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. Dilian is a former colonel in the Israeli intelligence unit 8200. 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.
Lawsuits filed against Circles and NSO Group allege that their software was used to spy on political agitators in UAE and that the Emirates asked to track Lebanon’s PM and a Saudi prince. Circles were also asked to intercept conversations of the editor of the Al Arab newspaper from Katar.
Use by Israeli forces:
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