IDF official: Cyber attack would be more harmful than a missile

"There is no civilian network as well protected as the army’s network," a senior IDF officer said.

May 14, 2017 16:52
3 minute read.
C4i Branch's Cyber Control Center

C4i Branch's Cyber Control Center. (photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT)

The IDF believes that a cyber attack targeting the nation’s civilian infrastructure would be more damaging than a missile attack by Hezbollah.

“Hezbollah paralyzing Israel’s infrastructure using cyber attacks, for example, is in effect more severe in effect than Hezbollah using missiles to attack the Hadera power plant,” a senior IDF official said, referring to the Israel Electric Corporation’s Orot Rabin coal-fired power station located in the coastal city. “This would cause only a few hours of power outages, which can be halted” relatively quickly, he added.

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Over the weekend, more than 200,000 computers in over 150 companies worldwide were affected by a massive ransomware cyber attack. Officials have warned that the international attack could spread with copycat variants of #WannaCry, the malicious software behind it replicating, but according to the senior officer, network was not affected. The IDF’s capabilities to protect its internal networks are “much stronger than any civilian network,” he said. “There is no civilian network as well protected as the army’s network.”
New version of ransomware worm expected (credit: REUTERS)

While it is not the responsibility of the military to protect civilian networks from such attacks, the IDF will help if asked, the senior officer said, adding that “it’s been done in the past and I expect that we will be asked to help in the future.”

National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz on Saturday afternoon declared an increased state of cyber alert for the country’s energy and water infrastructure, taking preventative protective measures.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said the country’s critical infrastructure remained untouched by the attack, highlighting ongoing efforts to combat the “new threats” posed by cyber attacks, the number of which according to the senior officer are increasing dramatically.

“Low-tech attacks in great numbers are a major challenge and can cause great harm,” he said, adding that while there has not been any successful largescale attack against the IDF’s network, “our enemies are getting stronger” in terms of both technology and the actual threat that they pose.

The networks are “dynamic” and always changing, in order to stay ahead of our enemies, he said, adding that “the IDF and Israel in general are continuously updating our systems.”

In June 2015, the IDF announced that Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot had decided to establish a Cyber Command in light of the substantial challenges in the field, but in January of 2017 it was decided not to have a separate Cyber Command Directorate, but rather to implement a new cyber intelligence processing doctrine.

Instead the entire domain of cyber counter-intelligence has been transferred to the IDF C4I Corps, or Teleprocessing Corps – which is also responsible for the construction and protection of computer networks – while the gathering of any other cyber-intelligence will remain the responsibility of the Military Intelligence Directorate.

According to the senior officer, the army will have a new Digital Operations Center by the fall that will be in charge of planning, commanding and controlling cyber defense operations.

Some units in the military have their own cyber defense elements, such as the air force and Military Intelligence, and will work in conjunction with the C4I Corps, which remains the ultimate authority in cyber protection. Other agencies such as the Mossad and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) will also work alongside the Digital Operations Center, he said, adding that “there is a relative advantage to each of the relevant bodies which have years of experience in their specific fields.”

According to the senior officer, these changes will significantly improve the army’s preparedness and ability to protect its networks, and have already made the military “better protected than we were before.”

“We have a year and a half to prove our capabilities, after that we will see whether we are going in the right direction or if we need to make additional changes,” he said.

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