A million hacks a day, but Israel’s electric grid survives

A new educational partnership with Lockheed-Martin aims to train kids in the cyber-security Israel needs

Illustrative photo of electric grid wiring (Photo credit: Roni Schutzer/Flash 90)
Illustrative photo of electric grid wiring (Photo credit: Roni Schutzer/Flash 90)

That Israel is a favorite target of hackers is common knowledge – but the sheer number and sophisticated level of those attacks is not as well known, according to the Israel Electric Corporation.

On the eve of the annual CyberTech conference in Tel Aviv Monday, IEC chairman Yiftah Ron-Tal said that during last summer’s Operation Protective Edge, the company’s servers and infrastructure were attacked nearly a million times – a day.

“If we compare the number of cyber-attacks in the war to the relative number of missiles fired by Hamas, Israel’s electric grid was hit by two ‘cyber-missiles’ a day throughout 2013. In 2014, that would have been 15 a day,” said Ron-Tal, adding that, with all due respect to a missile that could destroy a single target, a “direct hit” on the electrical grid would have brought the entire country to its knees.

Preventing those kinds of attacks is a major motivator for Israel to develop the world’s best cyber-security technology, said Dr. Eviatar Matania, chairman of Israel’s National Cyber Bureau.

Speaking at the CyberTech conference Tuesday, Matania said that Israel’s problem was the world’s problem, too. “Over the past year, we have witnessed a significant increase in the number, sophistication, and complexity of cyber-attacks, and we believe the threat is global.”

The annual CyberTech conference brings together experts, government officials, and potential customers from around the world to discuss the newest threats, and the best ways to fight them.

To protect itself, Israel has become a center of cyber-security research and development, with multinationals from the US, Europe, and Asia setting up R&D labs to develop better and more effective cyber-defense strategies and technologies, said Matania. “Israeli cyber-security firms export $3 billion in knowledge, services and solutions each year,” developing many of the technologies the world will need in the coming years to protect banks, infrastructure, and government servers.

Among those multinationals is US defense contractor Lockheed-Martin, which last April opened a center at the Beersheba Advanced Technologies Park (ATP). According to Chandra McMahon, senior VP Commercial Markets, Lockheed Martin IS&GS, the company is the top provider of IT solutions to the US government.

“We have nearly $9 billion in sales annually, supporting our clients in the private sector, government, and defense arena,” said McMahon. All that IT work requires top cyber-security technology, “and Israel is a great place for that.”

Expanding its relationship with Israel, LH announced Tuesday as partnered with Lockheed Martin to develop a national cybersecurity curriculum for high school students, sharing industry best practices and partnering on workshops and competitions.

The partnership was first proposed last year by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the project announced Tuesday aims to bring together cybersecurity and education experts from the Education Ministry, the National Cyber Bureau, LH, and the University of Maryland to increase the number of Israeli cyber and computer science professionals.

Dr. Eviatar Matania (Photo credit: Courtesy)
Dr. Eviatar Matania (Photo credit: Courtesy)

Israel, indeed, needs as many cyber-security pros as it can get. At Monday’s press conference Monday, Ron-Tal said that the IEC was subjected to as many as 300,000 attacks – on a “normal” day. During the summer war, the company recorded an average of 865,000 attacks a day.

Nor were the attacks simple ones, like denial of service (DDOS) or script-based attacks; some of them were aimed directly at the IEC’s infrastructure, said Eli Glickman, CEO of the company. “We have invested huge amounts of money in cyber-defense, and we are always analyzing the attacks to ensure that Israel’s critical infrastructure remains intact and uninterruped electrical service.” Were it not for those efforts, he said, the hackers could very well succeed in their objective – of making Israel “go dark.”

Among the first projects of the LH-Education Ministry partnership will be a contest called SkillZ, the first Israeli national cyber competition of its kind, with students from 70 high schools majoring in computer science and software engineering presenting novel cyber-security solutions. The competition, taking place on April 27 in Tel-Aviv, will follow a two-day “Train-the-Trainer” Cyber Education Workshop for ten Israeli educators and curriculum developers, hosted by Lockheed Martin at the University of Maryland in College Park, Maryland.

Dr. Ofer Rimon, Head of Technology and Information Administration, Israeli Ministry of Education said that “the Ministry of Education invests resources in expanding the number of students studying math, science and technology in high level and fostering and training teachers.”

“Israelis place a high cultural value on technology and innovation, which today requires an equally highly skilled and knowledgeable cyber workforce to protect it,” said Joshua Shani, chief executive of Lockheed Martin Israel. “We are excited to lend our expertise to developing that workforce for the benefit of Israel’s economy and national security.”

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