Computer hacking (illustrative).
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In January, shortly after hackers crippled part of Israel’s electricity grid during particularly harsh winter weather, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said “the greatest curse that we face is that in the Internet of Everything, everything can be penetrated. Everything can be sabotaged, everything can be subverted. And when I say everything, I mean everything.”
But is Israel doing enough to prepare for the new security challenge presented by cyber warfare? According to a report by State Comptroller Joseph Shapira, Israel needs to do more to confront the challenge presented by this relatively new threat.
Israel and other countries have become increasingly vulnerable cyber attacks primarily because all aspects of governance, commerce, infrastructure, utilities and security rely on electronic platforms.
The attack in January was one of the worst ever to be launched on Israel. But the country faces various forms of cyber attacks on a daily basis. According to study conducted in 2013, it faced about 1,000 cyber attacks a day, In 2014, during Operation Protective Edge, it faced one million attacks a day.
Israel embodies a unique combination of two features that make it a potentially instructive example for the entire world, a veritable light unto the nations – at least in the field of cyber warfare. On the one hand, a great deal of animosity directed against Israel and fueled by anti-Semitism makes the Jewish state a preferred target for cyber attacks.
The Israeli reality provides numerous examples or case studies for researching cyber attacks.
On the other hand, Israel is arguably the most innovative country in the world when it comes to cyber activity.
Indeed, the two go together. In struggling to stay alive in the face of numerous bellicose enemies, Israel has been forced to develop rich technological knowhow, particularly in the field of defense. In this way, the Jewish state has succeeded in making up for its lack of natural resources, land and a large population.
The need to defend itself constantly from existential threats has provided Israel with an incentive to innovate and adapt to new situations. And it has been blessed with a culture that fosters outstanding capabilities.
It should come as no surprise that with between 200 and 250 start-up companies dealing with the cyber realm, and 20 research and development centers run by multilateral corporations, Israel has about the same number of cyber companies as the sum total of companies in this field worldwide, excluding those in the US, according to a 2014 presentation to the Herzliya Conference.
Israel created the National Cyber Bureau to improve cyber defense for the non-defense-related sectors of government, and to develop “the state’s capabilities to secure critical infrastructure systems against cyber-terrorism, carried out by both foreign nations and terrorist groups.”
In June 2015, the IDF announced plans to create a unified Cyber Command by 2017. The new Cyber Command would integrate the functions of the C4I branch, Unit 8200 and military intelligence.
Israel also seeks out high school students aged 16 to 18 with exceptional computer skills, and attempts to direct them to the IDF’s cyber units.
But more can be done.
Though it already cooperates with the US and a number of other countries, Israel, where possible and without compromising its security, should deepen existing ties and expand the number of states with which it cooperates on cybersecurity issues and, more generally, on the free sharing of intelligence.
Ultimately, technology alone is not enough to defeat cyber attacks. As Gabi Siboni of the Institute for National Security Studies has argued, the sharing of conventional intelligence is just as critical as possessing technological capabilities for thwarting cyber attacks. And for this to be possible, Israel must engage in good old-fashioned diplomacy.
Finally, while Israel must do everything in its power to prevent the next cyber attack, it must also develop a plan for how to recover when a cyber attack is successful. Clear plans and guidelines should be developed for what actions to take in such as situation.
Israel is in a unique position to serve as a world leader in cyber security and is doing a pretty good job of it. But there is always room for improvement, as the State Comptroller’s report notes.