Energy minister: Israel stopped 'very serious' cyber attack on power plant

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said the attempted attack was detected "a few months ago."

Smokestacks at an Israel Electric Corp power station are seen from the Mediterranean, some 10 kilometers from Hadera (photo credit: REUTERS)
Smokestacks at an Israel Electric Corp power station are seen from the Mediterranean, some 10 kilometers from Hadera
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel detected and prevented a “very serious cyberattack” on one of the country’s power plants, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Wednesday.
Addressing the Cybertech Global Tel Aviv 2020 conference, Steinitz said the attempted attack was detected “a few months ago,” and represented one of only a few serious cyberattacks on Israeli energy facilities to date.
“It was detected and neutralized, but it was a very serious, sophisticated attempt to try to control and paralyze one of our power stations,” said Steinitz, adding that the attack targeted a number of additional sites.
Steinitz, who was appointed energy minister in May 2015, emphasized the potential devastation likely to be caused by a successful cyberattack against the energy sector, and particularly nuclear power stations. Israeli cooperation with the United States in the field of cybersecurity places a special emphasis on energy infrastructure, he said.
“The disasters and calamities that can be caused by cyberattacks on nuclear reactors and power stations are beyond imagination,” said Steinitz. “My understanding is that the most sensitive sector is the energy sector, for a very simple reason. If someone manages in time of war or conflict to paralyze our energy sector and our water supply chain, this is a total disaster. You can destroy the entire country, you can paralyze our ability to defend ourselves against regular military and terrorist threats.”
Steinitz highlighted the work of the Energy Ministry’s “one-of-its-kind” cyber center in Beersheba, monitoring and defending both government and privately owned energy infrastructure. The energy-focused center works closely alongside Israel’s Computer Emergency Response Team, also located in the city.
Yiftah Ron-Tal, the chairman of Israel Electric Corporation, told the conference that the company experienced an average of 11,000 “cyber-suspected events” every second in 2019.
“IEC is probably one of the most cyber-attacked organizations in the world, but also one of the most protected,” said Ron-Tal, a former commander of IDF Ground Forces and chairman of Israel Ports Development & Assets Company.
“These experiences led us to the following conclusions: cyber is everywhere, cyberattacks can happen everywhere or use any paths to penetrate organizations. The variety of attacks is increasing all the time and their sophistication is growing.”
Seeking to share its expertise, Ron-Tal said, IEC signed an agreement to collaborate with a leading Japanese utility corporation on cyber protection, including supporting the corporation’s efforts at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
“There is no doubt that the organizers of Tokyo 2020 Olympics are facing an enormous challenge. The enormous influence perimeter created by such a massive event is always a preferred target for cyber attackers,” said Ron-Tal.
“Their motivation comes from different objectives, and the attack surface is almost endless: electricity; water; food; transportation; public security; communications and more. In this type of mass event, the potential of causing enormous damage is also endless.”
IEC also announced that it would be selling a suite of self-developed cyber management solutions to critical infrastructure operators and industries.
The “battle-proven” range of products, named Sophic, was developed by IECyber, the company’s cyber entrepreneurship and business development division.