Israeli cyber authority says it stopped ‘major’ hacking attack
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Israeli cyber authority says it stopped ‘major’ hacking attack

Details released by PM's office days after defense and intelligence heads reportedly slammed the contentious National Cyber Authority

Raoul Wootliff covers politics, corruption and crime for The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Cybertech Israel Conference and Exhibition, in Tel Aviv on January 31, 2017. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Cybertech Israel Conference and Exhibition, in Tel Aviv on January 31, 2017. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Israel’s National Cyber Authority has thwarted a “major” attack on businesses and public institutions, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement Wednesday, just days after the body faced harsh criticism from some of the country’s top security officials.

“In recent days, the National Cyber Authority has collected many testimonies about a planned cyber attack,” the statement said. “In response, the authority carried out an investigation and discovered the plan of the attack.”

According to the PMO, the hackers disguised themselves as a legitimate organization and sent emails to “120 organizations, government offices, public institutions and private individuals” in an attempt to infiltrate their cyber systems.

Details of the attack were made public just days after it was reported that leaders of Israel’s security establishment sent an angry letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warning against a plan to expand the oversight powers of the authority.

The letter signed by Mossad head Yossi Cohen, Shin Bet head Nadav Argaman, IDF deputy chief of staff Yair Golan and Defense Ministry director general Udi Adam warns Netanyahu that in its current proposed form, the cyber authority would cause “severe harm to the security of the State of Israel.”

The officials said the body’s powers were too broadly defined, giving it too much power, according to a copy of the letter obtained by Channel 2 news.

There was no immediate response or confirmation from the Prime Minister’s Office.

In August 2016, the Knesset proposed reforming the National Cyber Authority, which was designed to bring together country’s various cyber defense groups under one umbrella.

Cadets in the IDF Cyber Defense Unit course, June 10, 2013 (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
Cadets in the IDF Cyber Defense Unit course, June 10, 2013 (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

The authority would monitor the cyberdefenses of the IDF and the Mossad, as well as the Israel Electric Corporation and the Water Authority, among other tasks.

The body had originally been created in February 2015, but did not officially receive any powers or responsibility under Israeli law. The August 2016 reform was meant to address this issue.

The legislation amended an existing law, which formally allowed the prime minister to appoint a head of the National Cyber Authority who would serve as the “authorized officer” for issues concerning national cyber defense. Under a temporary order in place until 2018, Baruch Carmeli was named head of the National Cyber Authority.

The defense and intelligence heads were allegedly promised that the cyber authority would be established in full cooperation with them, but realized this would not be the case when the bill was drafted last summer. They detailed their frustration in last week’s letter.

“The draft law seeks to grant extensive powers to the cyber authority, the purpose of which is not clearly defined,” they wrote, according to a copy of the letter published by the station.

They demanded an immediate cessation of the legislation’s advancement and for the construction of a new law more suited to Israel’s security needs.

Jacob Magid and Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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