IAI joins the cyberwarfare race

Director of cyber programs discusses role of intelligence in countering threats

Esti Peshin (IAI) (photo credit: Courtesy)
Esti Peshin (IAI)
(photo credit: Courtesy)

Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) has in recent months expanded its activities into the realm of cyber defense and begun building solutions for clients in Israel and abroad, Esti Peshin, director of the company’s cyber section, said this week.

The section, based at the IAI subsidiary Elta, was launched in August, said Peshin, a former senior member of the IDF’s highly classified Unit 8200 of Military Intelligence.
“We have a national responsibility to be independent in this area. Israeli defense industries have to take lead role. We have the infrastructure and platforms to take the lead,” she stated.
The section employees 25 people and is working around the clock to identify weaknesses and build defenses, she added.
Peshin provided a glimpse into the sphere of cyber warfare, which some defense experts believe is set to take a leading role in the world of overall warfare.
She said that nationally critical networks were vulnerable even if not linked to the Internet.
“A disk-on-key can be given to an employee, who then plugs it into a system. It can broadcast information. It takes less than 30 seconds for a disk-on-key to go through all of the contents of a computer,” she added.
“Hackers can get to a network in many ways,” she continued.
“There is no network, computer or application that can’t be hacked. The weak link is the person accessing them.”
Hostile governments can distribute disk-on-keys as gifts or hand out USB phone chargers, creating dangerous traps.
“That’s all it takes,” Peshin said. “In order to have effective defenses, an intelligence component is a must. A prior warning is required. We need to know about intentions to attack and be able to take mitigating steps.”
This involves tracking the communications of hackers and being tuned in to their intentions.
“A cyber attack is an ongoing event,” she explained.
“Attackers must know the structure of the network, who is working with it, and what defenses are in place. It’s very easy to get a list of employees, for example, by creating a fake social network identity.”
Situational awareness and analyses of probabilities are key in finding out when an attack is imminent.
“The idea is to not just defend the perimeter of the network with firewalls, but to expand defenses through intelligence,” she said.
Elta’s home market consists of military clients, but its cyber solutions are also being tailored for others, including governments looking to secure critical national infrastructure, as well as financial institutions.
National cyber defense organizations are still scrambling to define their areas of regulation around the world, Peshin said. She warned that the threat has become menacing, saying a well organized attacker can bring a country to a standstill, shutting off its power grid and traffic lights, or paralyzing an airport. Attacks of this nature can be launched without the perpetrator being traced, meaning there is no deterrence.
“That’s why we consider this to be an asymmetric dimension,” Peshin said.
Part of countering the threat involves working with Internet service providers to trace the steps of attackers, who use many international proxies to hide their origins.
“These are the building blocks that are needed for retribution,” she explained.
In its research, Elta employs hackers, getting them to build prototype solutions, testing them for weaknesses and then passing them on to developers.
From there, algorithms are written and products are built up.
“We’re a start-up, but with the backing of a company that earns $3.5 billion a year,” she said.
Ultimately, she hinted, these defensive measures can be turned into offensive capabilities.
“Intelligence is a subset of attack,” Peshin said. “This is, first of all, a national mission.”