IDF's IT unit head: 'Our enemy understood it can try to shut us down with a cyber attack'

IDF's Center of Computing and Information Systems holds its first ever cyber attack drill.

By
April 22, 2016 08:52
3 minute read.
IDF's MAMRAM Unit exercise held on Thursday

IDF's MAMRAM Unit exercise held on Thursday. (photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT)

Driven by increasing enemy capabilities to carry out cyber attacks that could paralyze IDF operations, the military unit in charge of IT infrastructure held a large-scale cyber war drill recently, testing its ability to switch over to shadow facilities in the event of a shutdown.

Lt.-Col. Yaniv Ossi, head of IT operations in the army’s Center of Computing and Information Systems, known by its Hebrew acronym, MAMRAM, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that the exercise reflected the IDF’s growing dependence on technology for every aspect of military operations.

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MAMRAM is the C4i Branch unit that supplies IT infrastructure, from servers to communications components, to military units. It also activates them on behalf of the army, and enables the IDF’s three branches to integrate their operations.

In the event of an effective cyber strike, all of that would be jeopardized, Ossi said.

“Our enemy understands that we are a technological military, and that it can sit at home and attack us, through a cyber strike, or through electronic warfare,” Ossi said.

He said there is practically no other drill in the IDF like the one they performed on Thursday, which tests the army’s ability to continue to function.

“The chief of staff described Operation Protective Edge as the most technological war in the world. After two years, it is clear to everyone that our technology has advanced further since then,” he said.

“Until recently, we did not know what a drill entailed. We would deal with incidents as they arose. Today, we can’t wait for an error to occur. In the event of an error, combat soldiers would be vulnerable to casualties on the ground, or the Home Front Command would be unable to sound off missile alerts because their systems would not work. We would have to sleep in safe zones.”

One of the central scenarios of the exercise was a sophisticated cyber network strike that resulted in critical systems being disconnected.

“We checked to see whether we can deal with such scenarios,” Ossi said.

Another scenario involved a kinetic missile strike on the MAMRAM unit’s facility, disabling it.

In either case, the unit would have to switch over to a mirror site and resume its operations as soon as possible.

“We moved to another site, to see if we can do this,” Ossi said.

An IDF that is disconnected from its digital networks would result in a military shutdown, he warned.

“Today, personnel can’t switch back to pen and paper within 10 minutes after losing their systems. For a soldier to communicate with an aircraft, he needs a data transfer system that I support... a loss of these capabilities would be a strategic blow.”

Ossi said the unit succeeded in moving sites rapidly, after spending four months training. “The end user experienced a very short period of being disconnected,” he said.

The drill affected a broad range of IDF activities, from logistics to administration to combat systems, Ossi said.

“We also found gaps. These are things we would not recognize on a day-to-day basis. These gaps are related to command and control, and our [IT] architecture. We overcame some of these problems during the drill, and others, we’ll repair shortly. In the next war, they won’t be there,” the officer said.

“The drill trained our personnel, who we view as combat soldiers. In the past, MAMRAM was seen as a hi-tech unit. Today, it is seen as a combat availability unit. Without it, nothing is available for IDF operations,” he said.


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