Even cybersecurity pros get hacked

Even cybersecurity pros get hacked

Addressing a conference on the need for legislation to protect Israel’s computers, a professor didn’t know his own website was under attack

Tel Aviv University's website, seen here attacked by anti-Israeli hackers, February 2012 (Photo credit: Courtesy TAU)
Tel Aviv University's website, seen here attacked by anti-Israeli hackers, February 2012 (Photo credit: Courtesy TAU)

Even top cybersecurity experts are vulnerable to hacking, as was proved Tuesday when the website of Tel Aviv University’s Yuval Ne’eman Workshop for Science, Technology and Security was defaced by anti-Israel hackers. The attack occurred just a short time before the director of the workshop, Prof. Yitzchak ben-Yisrael, told The Times of Israel that the government needed to set policy and approve legislation to improve cybersecurity.

At the very time of the attack ben-Yisrael was speaking at a Tel Aviv conference at which the audience was told that in recent months, hundreds of thousands of attempted attacks by anti-Israel hackers had been deflected by improved security measures on websites belonging to government, educational, and financial institutions.

The attack on ben-Yisrael’s website was routine, as these things go: Hackers managed to find a hole in the Tel Aviv University’s computer system and were able to reach the Yuval Ne’eman Workshop’s servers. They erased data and replaced the site’s front page with anti-Israel slogans, including “death to Israel” in several dozen languages.

While the attack was taking place, ben-Yisrael was telling members of the Israel Association of Electronics and Software Industries that while Israel was relatively well protected – a recent study by McAfee (makers of Norton Anti-virus) placed Israel’s as one of the world’s top three best-protected computer systems – that may not be the case in the future. “The Stuxnet virus that invaded Iranian computers and wreaked havoc with its nuclear program has put everyone on alert,”  ben-Yisrael said. “Until Stuxnet, viruses were seen as something that came only from the Internet. Now, it’s clear that hackers have other methods to get through even to computers that are thought to be very secure.”

Dealing with those threats will be the job of a new national cyber-defense task force, established in the Prime Minister’s Office last month. Israel needs a national policy to deal with cybersecurity because the economy is far more dependent on computers now than ever. Emphasizing the point was Michal Blumenshtik-Braverman, the director of security company RSA Israel, who said that in recent months over 500,000 hacking attempts on Israeli servers had been halted by RSA software. “These aren’t attacks by 16-year-old hackers, but by seasoned professionals,” she said, and as was clear from the Stuxnet episode, protecting only some of the computers did not guarantee that hackers could be kept out altogether. Only an organized policy, to be set by the national committee, would be able to prepare Israel to face the future.

Unfortunately, Professor ben-Yisrael got a first-hand real-life lesson in the problems he had just finished discussing, when the Workshop’s computers were taken down by hackers. Nonplussed, ben-Yisrael’s office issued a statement expressing his determination to fight on. “As with other attacks we’ve witnessed in recent weeks, this attack was also just an attempt to intimidate us, as there was no real damage to the Seminar’s data or operations. If anything, this incident will just push us to continue our research to determine the best methods of protecting computer systems and raising consciousness among the public of the importance of the issue.”

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