Energy minister says Israel foiled ‘serious’ attack on power station
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Energy minister says Israel foiled ‘serious’ attack on power station

National Cyber Directorate head tells cybertech conference country has managed to foil all attacks against critical national infrastructure in the past year

Israel's Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz speaking at the Cybertech 2020 conference in Tel Aviv; Jan. 29; (Cybertech)
Israel's Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz speaking at the Cybertech 2020 conference in Tel Aviv; Jan. 29; (Cybertech)

Israel’s Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said Wednesday at a cybersecurity conference in Tel Aviv that a few months ago the nation “detected and neutralized” a serious and sophisticated cyberattack that aimed to paralyze and control one of the country’s main power stations and other sites.

Countries hostile to Israel, like Iran, can create havoc if they target such critical infrastructure as transportation, healthcare or the communications systems, Steinitz told a gathering of cybersecurity experts and entrepreneurs. But the most sensitive infrastructure of all is the energy sector, he said.

“If someone manages to paralyze the nation’s energy sector and water supply chain it would be total disaster,” he said. “You can destroy the entire country.”

Without energy and water, “everything collapses,” he added.

An Israel Electric Corporation power plant situated on the Mediterranean coast in Hadera, Israel. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

To protect the country’s energy infrastructure Israel has set up a special cyber defense headquarter center in Beersheba, close to the national Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT). The center can track all of the nation’s energy systems — both public and private — and feeds into the national CERT and helps build up expertise about how to deal with cyber offenses in the energy sector.

“Israel gets thousands and millions of attacks and there have been a few serious attacks on our energy facilities,” Steinitz said.

The Israel Electric Corp. — the nation’s main electricity producer — was not the target of the attack mentioned by the minister, Yossi Shneck, head of cyber entrepreneurship and business development at the utility told The Times of Israel in a separate interview.

The IEC was, however, subject to an average 11,000 suspected cyber events per second in 2019, and is one of the most cyberattacked organizations in the word.

“It’s a miracle that so far Israel and the world haven’t witnessed enormous disasters or calamities following cyber terrorism or cyberattacks,” Steinitz said.

But these are on the way, he warned. “Unfortunately, I am quite confident that in the coming years we shall see in several countries around the world disasters and calamities that will come out from cyber offensive, and therefore we have to do our best to develop means to prevent it as much as possible.”

Head of Israel’s National Cyber Directorate Yigal Unna at the Cybertech 2020 conference in Tel Aviv; Jan. 29; (Cybertech)

At the Cybertech 2020 conference, the head of Israel’s National Cyber Directorate Yigal Unna said that in the past year Israel has managed to foil all attacks against critical national infrastructures.

“There have been zero successful cyberattacks on critical national infrastructures in the past year,” he said, adding that there has been a worrying increase of “wiper” cyber attacks globally, which are designed to steal and destroy information.

Cyberattacks globally are getting “faster, higher and stronger,” he said, and that the threat is just going to get even bigger.

To help fight against the threats, a network of public and private partners called Cybernet has been set up, where companies and entities share information about attacks and fix them. The Cyber Directorate is now seeking to set up an international Cybernet for the same purpose, he said, “in the next couple of months.”

The Cyber Directorate also provided in a separate statement a breakdown of cybersecurity incidents last year. Out of approximately 8,600 reports and alerts, over half (4,415) were received from the public and from organizations via 119 hotline set up by the center based in Beersheba. The rest came from detection systems. Around two-thirds (3,233) of the reports from the public and organizations were found to be real cyber incidents, or attempted infiltrations to variously rated computer systems, the statement said.

Unna said that the Cyber Directorate works closely with 87 other international CERTs to jointly fight threats. “We share a common purpose and common friends and we work together,” he said. “No single agency or single country can do cybersecurity successfully by itself.”

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