Ex-IDF general: Disabling an entire enemy air force with one keystroke is not imaginary

Aviation official: My division has never been hacked.

February 1, 2017 10:30
3 minute read.
Israel Navy

Operators in the Israel Navy cyber control room. (photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)


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“With one keystroke on the eve of a war, all enemy aircraft could be disabled without sending a single aircraft on a mission and without risking one human being... it is not beyond imagination,” former IDF Brig.-Gen. Yair Cohen said Tuesday about Israel’s potential cyber capabilities.

Speaking at the Cybertech Tel Aviv 2017 conference, Cohen said that Israel may soon be able to achieve the same decisive outcome in war with just one keystroke that it did in its massive air strike during the Six Day War.

Referencing Israel’s place among the five world cyber superpowers, Cohen said that even as Israel has not publicly declared its cyber capabilities, in 2011 officials such as British Armed Forces Minister Nick Harvey declared cyber as being a critical part of its armed forces. In addition to Israel and the United Kingdom, the countries which are believed to have the most developed cyber warfare capabilities are the United States, China and Russia.

Also in attendance at the conference was former Mossad cyber chief Haim Tomer, who discussed Israel’s investment of significant resources in constructing cyberspace barriers.

Tomer said that not enough is being done to collect, analyze and share lessons of past cyber attacks.

“For intelligence to improve cyber security, we need to understand more about the nature of attacks... We do not understand enough or share enough about the nature of the attacks happening around the world.”

Pressed by the moderator, former IDF Col. Ram Dor, about spotting signs of a cyber attack before it happens, Tomer doubled down that analyzing past attacks is a bread-and-butter of defense strategy and needs to be of greater focus, noting that some countries are not even bothering to study how to block recurring identical attacks.

Another former Mossad cyber chief, Amnon Sofrin, gave a survey of past cyber attacks, most of them involving Russia, from 2007 to the recent controversy surrounding the hacking of a cache of 19,000 Democratic National Committee emails ahead of the US presidential election.

Sofrin discussed two strategies for counterattacking a cyber hacker: diminishing the capabilities of a hacker prior to an attack, and initiating preemptive safeguards in anticipation of a specific attack.

He also discussed the likely increase of the use of cyber attacks on the physical battlefield going forward.

Speaking on the topic of cyber aviation security, former Brig.-Gen. Rami Ben- Efraim said that airports had multiple areas vulnerable to cyber attack that needed to be defended, including ground control units, ticketing systems, the control tower, instrument landing systems, logistics systems and approach lighting systems of runways.

There is also a trend of using the dark web to hack airport databases to steal identities, Ben-Efraim said.

Ben-Efraim criticized the tendency to jump at new technologies that offer quick fixes for cyber issues, adding that a more comprehensive approach is necessary.

Just one day after Islamic Jihad master hacker Maagad Ben Juwad Oydeh was convicted for hacking IDF drones and Ben-Gurion Airport, Israel Airports Authority Cyber and Information Security head Roee Laufer said that Israel is one of the most cyber-attacked countries, adding that his division had not been hacked.

Eric Vautier of CISO, ADP Group in France noted that the French are moving toward “creating smart airports” that will require “interconnecting all systems.”

Even with firewalls, Vautier said, it is a “real challenge” to defend such integrated data, adding that French airports fall under military jurisdiction because of the need for access to runways for an emergency evacuation.

In another session, Illusive Networks founder and CEO Ofer Israeli discussed deception technology, in which a company’s network appears to show multiple versions of its files, most of which are traps that can disable or recognize the identity of an attacker.

Israeli said that the uncertainty created by this technology deters hackers from moving within a system they have hacked, even if they were successful in initially penetrating the network.

In a session on law enforcement cooperation on cyber crime, FBI cyber attaché to Israel Nancy Woods complimented Israel on its involvement in the operation to catch cyber hackers in the JP Morgan and Madonna hacking cases.

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