Cybersecurity attacks surge during pandemic as Israel startup industry thrives

Cybersecurity watchdog says there was a 50% rise in cyberattacks reported by Israelis in 2020; cybersecurity startups attract 31% of global investment as they raise $2.9 billion

Shoshanna Solomon was The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Illustrative image of a hacker (stevanovicigor; iStock by Getty Images)
Illustrative image of a hacker (stevanovicigor; iStock by Getty Images)

Israelis reported a 50% jump in cybersecurity attacks last year and the National Cyber Directorate helped resolve over 9,000 such cases, the cybersecurity watchdog said Sunday in its annual report for 2020, a year in which a surge in hacking attacks came during the coronavirus pandemic, as businesses and citizens increasingly went online in the face of social distancing measures.

“Cyber-defense is a team game of information sharing and mutual knowledge… a combination that is necessary to create a reality that will curb the next attack,” said Yigal Unna, the director general of the cyber directorate, in a preface to the report.

Of the 9,100 reports of attacks, most of them came via the 119 cybersecurity hotline set up by the directorate. Sixty percent of them were social network breaches and 14% were cases of phishing attempts and stolen data, among others.

Last year saw an increase in the scope and types of cyberattacks, including ransomware attacks both in Israel and elsewhere, as the spread of the virus altered the work-from-home patterns and saw the move of many more activities online.

The surge in attacks also led to increased investment in Israel’s already thriving cybersecurity industry, and last year the sector attracted 31% of global investment in cybersecurity, the directorate said in its report.

The directorate is in charge of providing grants, networking and infrastructure to try out technologies for the nation’s cybersecurity startups.

Cybersecurity startups in 2020 raised a total of $2.9 billion in more than 100 deals, up 70% compared to the same period in 2019, the report said. The industry saw 20 acquisition deals last year, for a total value of some $4.7 billion, and witnessed the creation of five new unicorns, the report said. Unicorns are privately held companies valued at over $1 billion. Thirty-three percent of the unicorns in the field of cybersecurity are Israeli, the report said. Exports of cybersecurity software totaled $6.85 billion last year, the report added.

One of the largest cybersecurity attacks reported during the pandemic was that of US software developer SolarWinds, which said one of its products, Orion, was the focus of a large-scale attack disclosed in December. Up to 18,000 customers, including government agencies and Fortune 500 companies, had downloaded compromised software updates, allowing hackers to spy on email exchanges, the company said at the time. The attack mainly affected the US, the Israeli cyber directorate said in its report.

Also in December, in Israel, hackers breached the insurance company Shirbit and claimed to have made off with a vast hoard of personal data on its clients. Hackers tried to harm the nation’s water sector, in a bid to compromise the control and monitoring systems of its sewage treatment plants and the  pumping and sewage stations in several points in rural areas, the directorate’s report said. These attempts were identified and handled in time by the directorate and the water authority, and no damage or disruption was done to the water supply of residents, the report said.

Other attacks in Israel included a supply chain attack, ransomware attacks and the defacing of websites, the report said.

Last year the directorate also beefed up the nation’s health system, which saw a significant increase in attacks during the pandemic, the report said.

The most frequently targeted sectors, in which the greatest number of attack attempts was registered, were technology, energy, government, finance, academia and health , as well as supply chain companies, the report said.

Most Popular
read more: