Iran-sponsored cyber-attacks unending, PM says

As Netanyahu says the country needs a ‘digital Iron Dome,’ Iranian and Syrian hackers hail success in attack on Haifa — a claim denied by Israel

Even as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reported to attendees of a cyber-conference Sunday on Iran’s ever-increasing hacking attacks against Israel, the cyber-war between Israeli and Iranian hackers was raging on.

Over the weekend, Iran claimed that its hackers, members of the Syrian Electronic Army group, had broken into secure servers at Haifa Port — a claim that was dismissed by Israel when it was first raised two weeks ago. And Israeli hackers said they had compromised the computers of Iran’s Airtour Airlines.

“In recent months, we have identified a significant growth in the scope of cyber-attacks by Iran against Israel,” Netanyahu said at an event sponsored by Tel Aviv University’s Yuval Ne’eman Workshop on Technology and Security. “These attacks are being conducted by Iran and its surrogates, Hezbollah and Hamas. Their targets are, of course, major systems and infrastructure, including electrical systems and water systems. But all areas of civilian life, as well as defense systems, are being targeted as well.

“And this trend will continue as we progress during the digital age,” added Netanyahu.

As if to illustrate Netanyahu’s comments, Iran’s Fars news agency published over the weekend a lengthy description of what it claimed was a hack of critical infrastructure computers in Haifa Port that contained sensitive material. The attack was conducted last month by Syrian and Iranian hackers “in retaliation for the recent Israeli strike on a research center in suburban Damascus,” Fars claimed, adding that it was republishing the story because Google, it claimed, had blocked other websites where the story had been reported.

Plans of a water system at Kibbutz Sa'ar released by Iranian and Syrian hackers. (photo credit: Dr. Tal Pavel)
Plans of a water system at Kibbutz Sa’ar released by Iranian and Syrian hackers. (photo credit: Dr. Tal Pavel)

The computers said to have been hacked were part of the water distribution and purification infrastructure in Israel. Two weeks ago, when the claim was first made, it was denied by Israel.

The Iranian story was accompanied by several sketches of a water system that Israeli Internet expert Dr. Tal Pavel, a lecturer at Netanya Academic College, and head of the security group Middle Eastern Net, published on his blog. Pavel was the first Israeli source to pick up the story. The plans, said Pavel, appeared to be authentic, and matched the systems in place at Kibbutz Sa’ar in northern Israel. “The images leave no doubt that the plans, dated April 28 2012, are from Kibbutz Sa’ar,” Pavel said. “The images show the watering system in the fields, and in the hen houses of the kibbutz.”

Meanwhile, Israeli hackers were busy hammering away at Iranian sites. Pavel reported that the Israeli hacker “Yourikan” had hacked into the servers of Iran’s Airtour Airlines, a subsidiary of Iran’s national Iran Air carrier. Yourikan claimed that he had broken into the site and erased important data from the server — but not before downloading the full details of the employees.

“Say no to nuclear Iran. Say no to terror,” Yourikan posted on the site, adding, “The organization is down; they cannot work!!!”

Both attacks were examples of the latest trend among hackers, said Israeli security expert Gadi Tirosh, head of the cybersecurity start-up portfolio at Jerusalem Venture Partners. “Cybersecurity has moved from carpet bombing to guided missiles,” he told The Times of Israel. “It’s not about sending out viruses to attack individual computers or trying to bring down servers with denial-of-service attacks, as Anonymous tried to do recently in its major attack on Israel. The real attacks are tailor-made, destroying systems and killing servers” — especially of essential systems, infrastructure, and other important cyber-installations.

In his remarks Sunday, Netanyahu said Israel had been able to cope with the attacks so far — but that there was no guarantee for the future. “We are able to deflect most of the attacks, but these attacks will only grow in quality and quantity.

“We are aiming to build a ‘digital Iron Dome,'” Netanyahu added, a system that could deflect the incoming “guiding missiles” Tirosh referred to. “This requires us to always stay one step ahead of our enemies, in an unending competition,” Netanyahu said. He expanded that this was the job of institutions such as the Yuval Ne’eman Workshop.

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