The outgoing head of Israel’s internal security service Shin Bet and the head of the country’s cyber task force, among others, warned at a conference on cyber warfare at Tel Aviv University last week that strategic Israeli installations are essentially unguarded against cyber attack.
Around the world, a series of high-profile security breaches have afflicted major government and commercial institutions in recent weeks, including the Pentagon, Lockheed Martin, Sony, and Citibank. Earlier this month, hackers compromised the computer systems at two Israeli diplomatic legations in the U.S. and put them out of service for several hours.
Last year, it was discovered that cyber warfare had broken new ground with the Stuxnet worm attack, which targeted the control systems of nuclear plants. The U.S. and Israel have been accused of designing the worm, which disabled the Iranian nuclear plant at Natanz by causing extreme temperature variations, and which went undetected for months, perhaps years. Several speakers at the conference referred to Stuxnet as a game changer because it brought cyber warfare into the realm of offensive acts against critical infrastructure. But there was no public acknowledgement or even hint that Israel was indeed responsible for the worm. Instead, discussion focused on the country’s defense against cyber attack.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the conference, “The more computerized we get, the more vulnerable we become. There is therefore no choice but to deal with this in a more systematic and focused manner.”
The outgoing Shin Bet chief, Yuval Diskin, blamed China for some recent computer security breaches around the world and said the Chinese government’s cyber command now comprises “the largest number of hackers on earth.” He said there was evidence that on April 8, 2010, China diverted 15 percent of U.S. Internet traffic through its routers. (He was referring to an incident described in the report of the Congressional U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission released last November. The attack lasted for 18 minutes and appears to have been a case of IP hijacking or BGP hijacking—the takeover of whole blocks of website addresses by corrupting Internet network routing.) Cyber warfare is already “an existing reality,” he said.
Diskin asserted that Israeli networks critical to cell-phone communications, transport systems, finance, and the supply of electricity and water are all wide open to attack, and that this constitutes “a major threat to national security” because Israel, like all modern states, relies heavily on such systems to function normally.
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