Iran attacks Israel in cybersphere ‘daily,’ Netanyahu charges

PM hails Jewish state’s prowess, says it monitors and foils all of the Islamic Republic’s attempts to penetrate its defenses

Shoshanna Solomon was The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the CyberTech conference on January 29, 2019, in Tel Aviv (Gilad Kavalerchik)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the CyberTech conference on January 29, 2019, in Tel Aviv (Gilad Kavalerchik)

Iranian hackers target Israel every day, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu charged at a cybersecurity conference in Tel Aviv on Tuesday.

“Iran attacks Israel on a daily basis,” he told a gathering of government officials, cybersecurity experts and entrepreneurs at the CyberTech conference. “We monitor these attacks, we see these attacks and we foil these attacks all the time.”

Israeli officials have long accused Iran of seeking to hack important systems, as well as voiced concerns that it could try to meddle in the April 6 elections. The Islamic Republic has also been named by other Western powers as a rising force in cyberwarfare.

Meanwhile, Tehran’s nuclear program has reportedly been the target of several powerful attacks by Israel and the United States,

In his Tuesday speech, Netanyahu also hailed Israel’s cybersecurity experience and general technology prowess, saying they created diplomatic inroads for the nation.

“Every single county is talking to us about cyber,” Netanyahu said.

“That does not mean we share with everyone,” he added, but Israel has a policy to cooperate with governments and other organizations. “It is important to continue cooperation for defense.”

Israel’s cyber industry is second only to that of the US, taking 20 percent of the overall venture-backed cyber investments worldwide, according to an analysis by PitchBook and the Start-Up Nation Central database.

Netanyahu singled out airlines as the most vulnerable, via ground control hacking or interference with systems in planes.

“Civil aviation requires the most immediate treatment for cyber defense,” he said. “But it is one of hundreds.”

Yigal Unna, director general of the Israel National Cyber Directorate, speaking at the CyberTech conference on Jan. 29, 2019 in Tel Aviv (Gilad Kavalerchik)

Yigal Unna, director general of the National Cyber Directorate, said on Tuesday at the conference that the directorate is working closely with the Israeli election committee to prevent threats that could disrupt the process, concentrating on hacking and the penetration of systems.

He added that the national CERT — Israel’s Computer Emergency Response Team — based in Beersheba last month launched the emergency phone number 119, a 24/7 free service where anyone can report a cyberattack or suspicion of attack and get immediate help.

“It is a great sensor,” he said of the service, which helps the CERT get the “first signals of a cyberattack” and identify and contain the outbreak as it starts.

The National Cyber directorate has also set up a network of some 12,000 local cyber experts and security officers who share information about attacks. The network has helped keep damage to critical infrastructure in Israel at “zero,” he said, even as the nation has faced attacks on that front.

The directorate is now looking to open this network to foreign parties as well, he said.

“As we share information and knowledge, we can have the upper hand against the bad guys,” he said.

Also at the conference Tuesday, former Labor MK and current Jerusalem Venture Partners executive chairman Erel Margalit warned that “there is a serious imminent danger that Israeli elections will be tampered with.”

Margalit is a former leader of the Knesset Cybersecurity Taskforce.

He charged that Netanyahu, who is suspected of criminal actions, promoted an emergency order to transfer responsibility of information and data security from the Shin Bet security agency to the National Cyber Directorate, which is an organization subordinate to the prime minister. He called for shifting authority over the elections back to the Shin Bet.

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