Israel under cyber siege

Thursday, September 06, 2012 |  Ryan Jones

There is much talk of the regional war that could be sparked if Israel strikes Iran's nuclear facilities. The truth is that a regional war is already raging on computer networks across the Middle East, and Israel is under siege.

Make no mistake - just because these battles are taking place in cyberspace, and therefore far from the public eye, doesn't make the consequences of defeat any less severe.

"A cyber-war can inflict the same type of damage as a conventional war,” Professor Yitzchak Ben-Yisrael, head of Tel Aviv University’s Yuval Ne’eman Workshop for Science, Technology and Security, said in a recent interview with The Times of Israel.

"If you want to hit a country severely you hit its power and water supplies," noted Ben-Yisrael, who was responsible for setting up Israel's National Cyber Committee. "Cyber technology can do this without shooting a single bullet. [The battle] is not about saving information or data. It’s about securing the different life systems regulated by computers."

That makes it all the more alarming to learn that Israel, according to Ben- Yisrael, experiences about 1,000 cyber attacks every minute of every day.

One of the primary targets is the Israel Electric Company, which fends off between 10,000 and 20,000 cyber attacks every day.

"Today, the cyber-front has become one of the main battlegrounds," IEC Director Yiftach Ron-Tal told a gathering at the Institute for National Security Studies on Tuesday. Ron-Tal said the situation is made all the more urgent by the fact that Israel sits alone in the region, without the ability to draw on a neighbor's power supply should something go wrong.

While international hacker groups sympathetic to the Palestinian cause are sometimes responsible, as they were for a much publicized cyber-flare-up earlier this year, the majority of the attacks are carried out by foreign governments and terror groups.

Israel has gone a long way towards shoring up its cyber defenses in recent years, and the country already had some of the world's best computer security experts. But both Ben-Yisrael and Ron-Tal say there is a long way to go, and the margin for error is shrinking.

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