Israel can build robots to wipe out cybercrime: ex-'Israeli NSA' chief

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi said too many officers view cyber as "black magic."

January 29, 2019 10:08
2 minute read.
A man holds a laptop computer as cyber code is projected on him

A man holds a laptop computer as cyber code is projected on him. (photo credit: KACPER PEMPEL/REUTERS)


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Robots can be built and trained to outpace and wipe out most of the ability of cyber criminals to harm society, a former chief of IDF Unit 8200 said Tuesday. The unit is considered to be “Israel’s NSA” – the Jewish state’s equivalent of the US National Security Agency.

IDF Brig.-Gen. (res.) Ehud Schneorson made the statement in a speech at the Cybertech TLV 2019. His speech focused on the role of robots in cybersecurity.

Schneorson said that eventually, artificial intelligence (AI) techniques could be used to train robots to sufficiently understand a wide range of cyberattacks that would essentially put cyber criminals out of business.

One problem he noted was that even the smartest robots have trouble if attacks come at them “not only in an evolutionary way, but in a revolutionary way – new methods of attack.”

He said the solution was that robots could be challenged in their training with simulated new methods of attack by “red teams” – independent, challenging groups – to improve their ability to anticipate unexpected moves.

The former unit 8200 chief acknowledged that nation-state cyber powers would always have the time and resources to overcome even the smartest robots.

However, he said that wiping out the majority of cyber crime would make the entire cyber ecosystem more stable and allow cyberdefense experts to focus more on threats from countries.

He shared an anecdote from six years ago about the progress that has already been made since a meeting he had with then-IDF intelligence chief Aviv Kochavi, now the IDF Chief of Staff.

He said that Kochavi told him: “The biggest problem we have in cyber is that [IDF] management doesn’t understand it. They think it’s some kind of black magic.”

Schneorson said that now the army understands the issue much better.

But not all ex-intelligence conference participants were optimists.

At a later panel, ex-top Mossad official Haim Tomer said that even with progress he did “not think that governments and agencies are fully aware we are living in a time where this is the cyber warfare era.”

He said that “the number of events [of massive cyber hacking] is amazing and the severity of events – for the banking sector and the financial sector is amazing. Repeated attacks... could cause extremely high damage to any economy.”

Tomer said that decision-makers “need to be aware of the scales, extent and characteristics of cyber warfare.”

Analyzing how to approach cyber intelligence in the current era with using his Mossad-experience, he said that when he entered the Mossad in 1986, analysts filtered information to him which he and others operationalized.

He said that in the current era, artificial intelligence and machines are needed to filter the right intelligence for operations and defense because humans cannot cope with the mounds of information collected by big data.

At the same time, he said that humans are still needed at the “projection” and other phases – to ask the right initial questions and direct the intelligence cycle since intelligence collection if it is not quality is not useful.

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