Operators in the Israel Navy cyber control room.
(photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
Israel has the ability to hack advanced computerized Hezbollah rockets to stop them from posing a threat, former IDF Brig.- Gen. Pinchas Barel Buchris said Wednesday at Tel Aviv University.
Speaking on the Cyber Revolution in Military Affairs panel along with former IDF generals, Yair Cohen and Daniel Gold, former Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) head Carmi Gillon and IDF Rear-Admiral Ophir Shoham who works on cyber issues in the Defense Ministry, the former Unit 8200 head was responding to questions by Channel 10’s Or Heller about the state’s cyber capabilities in dealing with Hezbollah’s supply of more than 100,000 rockets.
Although Buchris said the majority of Hezbollah’s rockets, which are low-tech and less destructive, cannot be impacted by Israel’s offensive cyber-hacking capabilities, its more powerful hi-tech rockets can indeed.
The panel also debated whether the IDF’s recently announced plan to unite all its separate cyber units including offensive, defensive, intelligence and research units into one command – hailed by top brass as a visionary move – was a positive development. The issue has long been under discussion with a senior IDF official commenting at a conference in April 2014 that he did not expect the cyber units to become unified.
Cohen, one of the three former Unit 8200 heads, said he sees cyber issues as crucial but that if Unit 8200’s abilities are degraded when it is moved into the cyber command it would be problematic.
The US, he noted, had a long debate about whether to move the NSA into a new unified command and in the end decided not to.
“Unit 8200 has been a very successful organization until now,” he said, adding that the IDF “needs to make the decision carefully.”
Echoing some of Cohen’s doubts while providing qualified support, Gillon said, “I’m sure it [a unified cyber command] is needed – will it work? I’m not sure because of other experiences we’ve had in the security community.
Although not always coordinated, Gillon noted that Cyber abilities have existed in the IDF for years.
Gold was more positive about the change, saying there is “lots of potential by integrating cyber intelligence with cyber defense” and that “the outcome and effectiveness are even more important than the structure.”
Shoham, meanwhile, called the move a natural evolution, from precursor moves the IDF made some 10 years ago.
The IDF will “keep the important pillars we already have, while building new capabilities,” he said.
The most favorable comments came from Buchris, who called unification “the best decision of the IDF chief-of-staff so far” and expressed confidence that Unit 8200 would be absorbed “in the right way.”
Earlier, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon took the strongest and most explicit public stance yet by an Israeli official about the country’s willingness to carry out not just direct retaliation cyber attacks, but general deterrence cyber attacks, as well.
Ya’alon admitted that adversaries such as Iran, Hezbollah and other hackers “have been attacking us militarily and economically” and said “we need to attack them back.”
His predecessor, Ehud Barak, was far more circumspect in comments about the country’s offensive cyber capabilities, but the cyber world has evolved rapidly evolved since Barak stepped down two-and-ahalf years ago.
Ya’alon also discussed the need for setting clearer international laws and standards in the cyber warfare arena because attacks have become more frequent.