IDF cyber defense war room .
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM,REUTERS)
Former IDF Brig. Gen. Pinchas Barel Buchris on Wednesday said that the state has the ability to hack advanced computerized Hezbollah rockets in order to stop them from posing a threat.
Buchris made the comments at the Cyber Revolution in Military Affairs panel at Tel Aviv University, where the star-studded panel also included two other former IDF generals, Yair Cohen and Daniel Gold, as well as former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Carmi Gillon and IDF Rear Admiral Ophir Shoham who works on cyber issues in the Defense Ministry.
The former Unit 8200 head, one of three former heads on the panel, was responding to questions by Channel 10’s Or Heller about the state’s cyber capabilities at dealing with Hezbollah’s over 100,000 rockets.
Buchris said that the majority of Hezbollah’s rockets were low-tech, less destructive and could not be impacted by Israel’s offensive cyber hacking capabilities.
However, he added that regarding Hezbollah’s more powerful and hi-tech rockets, Israel’s cyber capabilities could be used to stop incoming rockets.
Besides the issue of Hezbollah rockets, the panel had an intense debate about whether the IDF’s recently announced plan, hailed by top brass as a visionary move, to unite all of its separate cyber units
including offensive, defensive, intelligence and research units, into one command, was a positive development.
Cohen, one of the three former Unit 8200 heads, openly questioned the move.
He said, “I see cyber” issues as crucial, “but if Unit 8200’s abilities will” be degraded when it is “moved into the cyber command,” that result would be problematic.
Cohen noted that the US had a long debate about whether to move the NSA into a new unified command and in the end decided not to – noting “Unit 8200 has been a very successful organization” until now” and 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 about that because of other experiences we had in the security community.”
“Cyber abilities have existed for years in the IDF,” stated Gillon, noting that those disparate units were not always coordinated.
Gold was more positive about the change, saying there is “lots of potential by integrating cyber intelligence with cyber defense,” while adding “the outcome and effectiveness are even more important than the structure.”
Shoham called the move a natural evolution, noting precursor moves that the IDF made around 10 years ago.
He added, “I worked on the issue of the joint cyber command, and it was a very balanced decision as the goal is clear.” Shoham added that the IDF would “keep the important pillars we already have, while building new capabilities.”
Buchris was probably the most in favor, calling the decision to unify the cyber capabilities “the best decision of the IDF chief-of-staff so far.” He expressed confidence that Unit 8200 would be absorbed “in the right way.”
The issue has been debated, with one senior IDF official commenting at a conference in April 2014 that he did not expect the cyber units to become unified.
Earlier at Wednesday’s conference, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon took the strongest and most explicit public stance yet taken by an Israeli official about the country’s willingness to carry out not just direct retaliation cyber attacks, but also general deterrence cyber attacks.
Ya’alon admitted that Israel’s adversaries like Iran, Hezbollah and other hackers “have been attacking us militarily and economically,” but countered that “we need to attack them back.”
His predecessor, Ehud Barak, was far more circumspect in comments about Israeli cyber offensive capabilities, but the cyber world has rapidly evolved since Barak stepped down 2.5 years ago.
The defense minister also discussed the need for setting clearer international laws and standards in the cyber warfare arena since attacks have become more frequent.