Next 9/11 will be caused by hackers, not suicide bombers, cyber expert warns

Greater US-Israel cooperation urgently needed to counter threat of cyberterrorism infiltrating air traffic controls, says Dr. Gabi Siboni

Cadets in the IDF Cyber Defense Unit course, June 10, 2013 (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
Cadets in the IDF Cyber Defense Unit course, June 10, 2013 (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)

An Israeli cyber expert warned Wednesday that “the next 9/11″ will be carried out by computer hackers infiltrating air traffic controls, rather than suicide bombers.

Col. (res.) Dr. Gabi Siboni said the US and Israel must increase cyber-defense cooperation in preparation of future terror attacks, and said distrust is preventing greater collaboration between the two allies.

“Computer hackers have begun targeting electric and nuclear power plants and other critical operations around the world in audacious and continuous efforts to take control of them,” Siboni, the director of the Cyber Security Program at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies said. Siboni spoke ahead of a bilateral cybersecurity conference, set to take place in Washington, DC later this month.

According to Siboni, in the worst case scenario, terror groups could disrupt and possibly infiltrate critical air control infrastructure, causing deadly accidents and bringing flight systems to a standstill.

Although only developed states currently possess the capabilities needed to carry out such large-scale attacks, Siboni warned this may soon change.

“The next 9/11 will happen without suicide bombers aboard the plane with box-cutters but will occur because of a cyber incident perpetrated by a terror organization,” he said.

“Cyber aggression is widely utilized and has become a basic weapon used in international conflicts. Countries are responsible for attacks on most national infrastructure, and governments across the Western world have understood that they must allocate resources not only to purchase new tanks and aerial defense systems but also in defensive cyber infrastructure,” he added.

Despite the magnitude of these threats, Siboni said the strategic partnership between Israel and the US in the cybersecurity field has yet to be fully utilized.

“Establishing a bilateral apparatus that combines the technological capabilities of civil and military intelligence is currently one of the most pressing issues of the day,” he said.

He pointed to security projects such as Iron Dome, David’s Sling and Arrow as examples of successful security cooperation between the two nations, while stressing that very little cooperation exists on cyber issues.

Col (res.) Dr. Gabi Siboni, director of the INSS Cyber Program (photo courtesy of INSS)
Col. (res.) Dr. Gabi Siboni, director of Israel’s INSS Cyber Program (photo courtesy of INSS)

“Cooperation in the field of cybersecurity has yet to overcome obstacles of suspicion mainly that countries will use newly acquired technology against them,” Siboni said.

Israel has become a center of cybersecurity 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.

Israeli cybersecurity firms are said to 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.

But while private companies worldwide have been eager to acquire Israeli technologies, the US government has been far more hesitant, according to Siboni.

“Israeli technology and businesses are struggling to gain foothold in the American federal defense market and are left to operate mainly in the private sector,” he noted.

These issues will be addressed in the upcoming Defensive Cyberspace Operations & Intelligence (DCOI) Conference, an Israeli-American partnership that will explore ways to join forces against the cyber threat High-ranking officials from Israel and the US will attend the gathering in Washington, DC on April 27-28, where Israeli firms will attempt to grab American attention to their cutting-edge technologies.

David Shammah contributed to this report.

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