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IEC’s Cyber-Gym toughens up Israel’s infrastructure

Cyber-defenders at the Israel Electric Company have to mitigate up to 6,000 ‘fake’ hacker attacks per second, helping them practice for the real thing

(R. to L.) Chairman of the IEC’s Directorate, Ret. Major General Yiftah Ron-Tal, The Minister of National Infrastructures, Energy and Water Resources, Silvan Shalom, Eli Glickman, CEO of the Israel Electric Corporation, and IEC Deputy CEO and Customer Deputy Director-General, Yaakov (Yasha) Hain face the “red team” hackers at the IEC”s Cyber—Gym (Photo credit: Yossi weiss, IEC Spokesman unit)
(R. to L.) Chairman of the IEC’s Directorate, Ret. Major General Yiftah Ron-Tal, The Minister of National Infrastructures, Energy and Water Resources, Silvan Shalom, Eli Glickman, CEO of the Israel Electric Corporation, and IEC Deputy CEO and Customer Deputy Director-General, Yaakov (Yasha) Hain face the “red team” hackers at the IEC”s Cyber—Gym (Photo credit: Yossi weiss, IEC Spokesman unit)

The best way to “take down” a modern society isn’t necessarily through electronic warfare – but through warfare on its electrical system.

As a result, hackers the world over spend endless hours trying to break into the infrastructure of electric companies. Israel is no different – and in fact, the Israel Electric Company is probably subject to more attacks than other electric companies, given that seizing control of it would be a huge feather in the cap of enemy hackers seeking to hurt Israel in any way possible.

For years, of course, the IEC has fought off hack attacks – successfully, so far – preventing attacks as they come in, and placing Israel’s electrical grid behind, at least for now, an impenetrable defense system. But hackers are clever, and their methods of attack are getting more sophisticated daily. To battle hackers today, you need to be proactive, not reactive, figuring out attack strategies and techniques before the hackers do.

It’s to that end that the IEC opened its “Cyber-Gym,” a full-fledged hacker’s lair designed to train the company’s cyber-defenders in the fine art of thwarting hack attacks. The facility has been operating for several months, but on Wednesday it was officially opened in a gala press conference.

The program is a joint effort of Israeli cybersecurity company Cyber Control, and the Israel Electric Company. “Actually, the idea of the gym could work in many industries, including banks, corporations, and so on,” said Ofir Hason, CEO of Cyber Control. “But we wanted to start with infrastructure companies, because they are among the most valuable, and the IEC is perhaps Israel’s biggest infrastructure company.”

The idea of the Cyber-Gym is to duplicate real-world conditions in which hackers might try to break into the IEC’s system. The IEC is no stranger to hack attacks. “The IEC’s CEO has said that hackers have tried to hack the company’s control systems and information systems several times,” said Hason. At the press conference, the IEC’s Deputy CEO Yasha Hain said that the company “has been dealing with cyber-attacks that have already become a matter of routine.”

More than just a simulator, the Cyber-Gym is essentially the real thing – a place where hackers try their hardest to compromise a working IEC infrastructure system. The facility consists of two separate rooms – one where the hackers do their dirty work, and another where the IEC’s cyber-defenders monitor and fend off attacks. The two sides don’t swap stories or secrets; the “Blue Team” defenders have no idea what the “Red Team” attackers (the two sides actually wear team outfits) are trying to pull off, so they need to remain alert to the techniques and details of each attack.

The Cyber-Gym operates at the IEC Training Center in Heftziba, adjacent to the Orot Rabin Power Station in Hadera. For the past several months it has been operating in trial mode; some of the world’s top “white hat” (good guy) hackers and technology defense personnel have visited the site, which is unique among utilities.

The event was attended by Silvan Shalom, Minister of National Infrastructures, Energy and Water Resources. Speaking at the event, Shalom said “as the states of the world face organized attacks by hackers against national infrastructures, including the electricity systems, Israel is determined to prevent any damage to its strategic foundations; the establishment of this cyber arena is one of the measures taken against the attacks. I will establish a cyber-staff to coordinate between all the major organizations administered by my ministry.”

The Cyber-Gym has come on the scene just in time, said Ret. Major General Yiftah Ron-Tal, Chairman of the IEC’s Directorate. “Nasrallah and Grad missiles are ‘out,’ but cyber attacks are ‘in.’ The State of Israel in general, and the electricity sector in particular, face growing threats to their infrastructures. There are hundreds of attempts to intrude the IEC’s systems every day. It is a national level threat. With an eye towards leading the efforts to develop technology to fight hackers and to fulfill our national responsibility, the IEC has gathered a top staff to locate and monitor intrusions to our system.

“We have also established this revolutionary facility to develop cyber protection methods, developing the most intensive security challenged ever. The network here must deal with 6,000 network events per second, relating to all the activities executed by the organization. Each case is examined using advanced analytical tools. This is doubtlessly the most significant present and future battlefield,” Ron-Tal added.

According to Eli Glickman, CEO of the Israel Electric Corporation, “the experience gained by the Israel Electric Corporation in many areas, among them the protection for critical infrastructures, is a source that could be shared with and studied by many infrastructure corporations in Israel and abroad; in such a competitive era, it has the potential to create profit to the corporation. The knowledge gained by the corporation is an asset that could accelerate worldwide business activities that would be worth billions.”

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