Israeli Cyber: The Threat and Unique Response

Israel is one of the top targets of cyber attacks in the world today, with a nearly constant barrage of hundreds of thousands to millions of attacks each day, against civilian, military and governmental computer systems. Indeed, cyber attacks have come to be viewed as one of the primary threats Israel faces today. Israel has responded to the threat by developing highly advanced cyber capabilities that have made it a world leader in the field.

A Constant Barrage of Cyber Attacks

A threat to the civil sector – virtually every computer system in Israel has been targeted, including hospitals, El Al, the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, banks, TV stations, government offices and electricity, water and telecommunications firms. Most of the cyber attacks are against targets of a purely civilian nature and are designed simply to cause disruption and hardship. For years, on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, international “hacktivist” groups have conducted a coordinated series of cyber attacks threatening Israel with an “electronic Holocaust” and of being “erased” from cyber space.

In 2020 hackers from Iran, China, North Korea, Russia and Poland, launched cyber attacks against aircraft approaching Ben Gurion Airport in the attempt to disrupt the arrival of more than 60 heads of states attending a commemoration in Israel of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The previous year foreign hackers almost succeeded in inserting fake video footage – of rockets supposedly raining down on Tel Aviv – into the TV broadcast of the Eurovision Song Contest, an annual musical extravaganza held that year in Israel and viewed by hundreds of millions around the world. Had either of these attacks succeeded, the damage to Israel’s reputation, tourist industry and commercial sector as a whole, would have been severe.

Threats to the Electoral System

Much like the US and other democratic countries today, Israel, too, is concerned about possible attempts by Russia, China, Iran and others to subvert its electoral system and to influence public opinion through cyber means. Iran has conducted an extensive cyber disinformation campaign against Israel. “Countdown 2040”, for example, an Iranian website which claims that Israel will cease to exist by that year, reaches up to half a million people in Israel each month.

The Military Cyber Threat

Israel’s military strategy relies on a largely reservist army, with exceedingly short mobilization times, to cope with the myriad array of military threats it faces. A cyber attack that successfully disrupted civil power, communications, or transportation systems, even for a short period, could make a critical difference in times of crisis or war. Even something as basic as shutting off traffic lights, could disrupt the mobilization of forces and have a significant impact on military operations, not to mention the chaos caused to the entire country.

Military computer systems in Israel, including classified ones, are a particular focus of attack.  Attacks that successfully penetrate weapons, or military communications, command-and-control and intelligence systems, could have a severe impact. Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas have conducted repeated intelligence collecting cyber attacks against Israel and even close allies have used cyber means to penetrate Israeli weapons systems for intelligence purposes.

How the “Startup Nation” Became a Cyber Power

Different countries have responded to the cyber threat in various ways. Israel has taken it very seriously, defining the cyber threat as one of the gravest threats it faces and rapidly developing capabilities that have placed it at the forefront of the cyber world. Indeed, Israel’s cyber security strategy is closely studied by other nations around the world and are considered to be a model to be emulated. The UK, for example, established its own cyber policies and institutions in recent years, drawing significantly from the Israeli experience.

This is the remarkable story of how the “startup nation” became one of the world’s top five cyber powers. It includes the rapid establishment of the new governmental institutions needed to deal with the emerging threat and Israel’s remarkable “cyber ecosystem”, which has made it the second largest center of cyber security R&D in the world. It is the story of a cyber educational system, from elementary school through university, and of a variety of programs developed to train the highly skilled technological manpower needed. It is also the story of the fascinating and unique role of the IDF, unparalleled by any other military, in promoting Israel’s civilian cyber prowess and Israel’s cyber security.

The Talk

  • The cyber threats Israel faces
  • Getting organized for cyber – the new governmental organs
  • The cyber ecosystem – Israel’s remarkable cyber industry and educational system
  • Cyber in Israel’s military strategy – offensive and defensive capabilities
  • “Stuxnet” – the dramatic US-Israeli cyber attack on Iran’s nuclear program

Join me for an exciting and riveting talk about the remarkable story of how the “startup nation” became one of the world’s top cyber powers.

Talk topics:

  • Israel and the Cyber Threat – my forthcoming book, 2020
  • How the “Startup Nation” Became a Global Cyber Power
  • “Stuxnet”: The US-Israeli attempt to derail Iran’s nuclear program by cyber means


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