119 — yes, 911 backwards — is the cybersecurity hotline Israelis can now call if they are concerned that they are under cyberattack, making Israel possibly one of the first countries in the world to set up such a hotline.
The initiative is part of the national CERT — Computer Emergency Response Team — that is based in Beersheba. The hotline was officially launched last month after being in operation somewhat under the radar for about a year, and is a 24/7 free service where anyone can report a cyberattack or suspicion of attack and get immediate help.
“It is a great sensor,” Yigal Unna, director general of the National Cyber Directorate, said at a cybersecurity conference last week in Tel Aviv. It helps the CERT get the “first signals of a cyber-attack” and identify and contain the outbreak as it starts.
Unna explained that the service was good both for taxpayers and the directorate, whose role is similar to that of a Center for Disease Control – CDC.
“We are handling epidemics,” he said. “Cyberattacks usually act like epidemics — with an outbreak, the faster you contain it, you have the upper hand.”
The faster the directorate gets to know about cybersecurity events, “the faster we can identify patient zero, to contain” the epidemic, he said.
The hotline has already been getting some 200 calls a day, up from five a day about a year ago, Unna said. Some of the calls are funny ones like “help, the air-conditioner is attacking me,” he said. “But we take everything seriously” because the incident could actually be a new kind of attack. “If we get three or four calls of same curious phenomenon, we review it.”
The directorate employs and trains Ben-Gurion University of the Negev students at the hotline, he said.
We dialed 119
The Times of Israel tried it out the number, making it clear early on that it was a crank call so as not to raise unnecessary alarms.
“Cyber Bureau,” a woman answered, after a ring or two.
Times of Israel: “Hi. How does it work exactly?”
Cyber hotline woman: “What?”
TOI: “If I think I am under a cyberattack, how can you help me?
CH, very courteously: “Why do you think you are undergoing a cyberattack?”
TOI: “Well, my computer is suddenly very slow.”
CH, again very courteously: “That doesn’t necessarily mean you are under a cyber-attack. I’d suggest you contact your internet supplier, for example.”
TOI: “What would I see if there were a cyberattack?”
CH, very sweetly: “Well, if you see strange things happening, like files disappearing or things like that, then we’d check.”
TOI: “Oh, okay. Thank you very much.”
CH: “You are welcome.”