Cyber enemies can “hack our airlines and our fighter planes,” but cyber is also “creating unimaginable benefits,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday.
Speaking at the Cyber Week conference at Tel Aviv University, Netanyahu was only confirming what others have said, but it was the first time that the prime minister publicly admitted the scope of the threat to Israeli aviation.
Such a global hacking threat “is not theoretical, but has already happened in the present.”
Playing a mock video for the packed auditorium telling them that all of their financial information had been hacked and their trade secrets had been sent to their competitors, Netanyahu heavily emphasized the cyber threat to the country “in all the new areas” of technology.
However, at the same time, he said that Israel can succeed at the “ever-present race” of cyber and that “we are absolutely committed to protect ourselves.”
He mentioned that “Israel gets 20% of global investment in cybersecurity, punching 200 times above our weight.”
Netanyahu said that he had purposely moved IDF unit 8200 (the Israeli NSA), cyber businesses and cyber academics to an area of Beersheba where they can work within 200 meters of each other.
The prime minister said that putting them all together “has tremendous advantages,” adding that there were also risks to the move, but that he was “willing to take risks, because cybersecurity grows through cooperation” and because of the major potential business gains.
He said further that the country “spends enormous amounts of money” on the Shin Bet [Israel Security Agency], Mossad and other cyber intelligence capabilities, but that getting the business sector to undertake a portion of the cyber defense investment could be a strategic budget bonus in saving from spending on cyber defense.
Some key areas where Netanyahu sees Israel making major cyber strides include agriculture, digital medical technology and smart mobility.
He said new technologies like precision agriculture can use drones to target the water and fertilizer needs of individual plants.
Netanyahu said that 98% of the population’s medical data would be fully digitized within three decades and that the government is investing NIS 1 billion in the technology to push it forward.
The prime minister rattled off a list of huge Israeli successes, such as Waze and Mobileye, as only foreshadowing continuous Israeli growth in the area of smart mobility.
Earlier at the conference, Israel National Cyber Directorate head Yigal Unna warned that cyber super-weapons are spreading, as they have been stolen from top cyber powers.
Unna’s statement comes ironically one day after the US indicted ex-CIA engineer Joshua Schulte for the March 2017 leaking of “Vault 7” – thousands of top-secret files outlining the extent of the CIA’s cyberwarfare capabilities – to Wikileaks.
Unna also warned that, “There are no cyber rules, and I don’t see over the horizon any success in shaping agreed rules of the game.”
He gave Russia’s ongoing hacks of Ukraine from 2014 to 2018 as an example in which Russia has hacked the electrical system, the banking system, erased pensions and engaged in political influence campaigns.
On an optimistic note, Unna said that Israel’s new cyber bill to formalize his relatively new agency’s role in combining securing Israel’s cyberspace with developing a long-term Israeli cyber strategy would be announced later Wednesday.
He did not provide further details, nor did the Prime Minister’s Office.
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