Police disconnect from Internet, fearing cyber war

Officers ordered to be extra careful with computers following fears of an attack; unclear if breach was wide-scale attack or virus.

Cyber defense war room 370 (photo credit: Reuters and Marc Israel Sellem)
Cyber defense war room 370
(photo credit: Reuters and Marc Israel Sellem)
Investigators from the Israel Police information security branch are on the trail of a viral break-in of the national police computer system, which forced the police to take their operations off-line on Wednesday, and issue strict computer security guidelines to officers.
On Thursday, police announced that they had ordered all officers to no longer use the Internet on police computers and avoid using thumb drives or CDs, or any other passing of data and programs between police computers. They said the decision was made after an infiltration of some sort in the police computer system raised flags in the computer security department of the police.
A flurry of messages was sent to the press by several police subdistrict spokespeople shortly thereafter, stating that “due to a computer malfunction in the national police computer system,” they would not be able to send out emails, and that if reporters or anyone else would like to reach them, it must be done by phone or by fax.
Police investigators were looking at the possibility that someone broke into the computer system. They were trying to determine how far the break-in reached and if it entailed some sort of widescale cyber-attack or a virus that was passed onto only a few computers, national police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld explained.
Rosenfeld also said that it was unclear if the virus was created by an individual or an organized group, and that it was far too early to tell if it originated from Iran or some other foreign country.
As of Thursday evening, the infiltration had not affected the internal police databases and networks, Rosenfeld said, adding that all police internal tracking systems were still working as usual.
There were media reports that on Thursday morning, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) warned the police that a dangerous computer virus was on its way, but on Thursday the Shin Bet said it had issued no such warning.
In addition, the Public Security Ministry, which oversees the Israel Police, denied reports that the virus had compromised the ministry’s computer system.
As of press time, police had still not given the green light for officers to use the Internet or thumb drives, as investigators continued to check thousands of police computers to make sure the threat was neutralized.