Israel cyber spying helped foil terror attacks in ‘dozens’ of countries, PM says

Israel cyber spying helped foil terror attacks in ‘dozens’ of countries, PM says

Netanyahu reveals intel was used to thwart midair explosion of Sydney-Abu Dhabi flight, says case can be multiplied by 50 to show Israel’s contribution to cybersecurity

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tells Cyber Week conference that Israeli cyber-intelligence helped foil attack of an Etihad Airways plane flying from Sydney to Abu Dhabi, June 26, 2019 (YouTube screenshot)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tells Cyber Week conference that Israeli cyber-intelligence helped foil attack of an Etihad Airways plane flying from Sydney to Abu Dhabi, June 26, 2019 (YouTube screenshot)

Israel has used cyber-intelligence to help foil “major” terror attacks planned by the Islamic State terror group and others in “dozens” of countries, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at a cybersecurity conference on Wednesday in Tel Aviv.

Netanyahu said at the conference that Israel had, for example, helped foil an IS attack on an Etihad Airways flight from Sydney to Abu Dhabi, and alerted Australian officials, helping thwart an explosion in the air. Etihad is the national airline of the United Arab Emirates.

“That plane from Sydney to Abu Dhabi was going to be exploded in midair,” he said. “We found out through our cyber activities, we found out that ISIS was going to do this and so we alerted the Australian police and they stopped this, before it happened.”

“This particular incident, I can talk about,” Netanyahu said. “If you multiply that 50 times, that will give you an idea of the contribution that Israel has made to prevent major terrorist operations, especially from ISIS, in dozens of countries and most of those cases were foiled because of our activities in cybersecurity.”

“This affects every country in the world, every person in the world,” he added.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with a slide demonstrating at Cyber Week how airplane attacks were foiled in the past, before the use of cyber intelligence, Tel Aviv, June 26, 2019 (Chen Galili)

Israel shares information about cyberthreats and attacks with 85 countries, he said.

In his speech at the Cyber Week conference, Netanyahu said that the world and Israel were undergoing a “revolution” in which everything from agriculture to health to cars was becoming connected. Israel can play a major part in this revolution, he said, because of its tech prowess. But none of it is possible if the cyber sphere is not secured.

Israel has made an “enormous investment” in human capital, mainly via its military training programs, and has created a group of people with skills who “can deal with the ramifications of this revolution,” he said.

“Cyber is essential to the growth of anything we are talking about,” he said. “Nothing of this… growth is possible without the accompanying cybersecurity and we intend to be world leaders in that field.”

To achieve this, Israel must keep investing in its national cyber capabilities and at the same time must not stymie businesses through over-regulation.

As the cybersecurity industry grows, so will the need for regulation, similar to the weapons industry, he acknowledged. “but my principal role has been not to over-regulate.

“I think we have to take a risk, and it is a considerable risk, of regulating less in order to to grow more and that is a decision that I and Israel have taken.”

Yigal Unna, Director General of the Israel National Cyber Directorate, speaking at the Cyber Week conference held at the University of Tel Aviv (Chen Galili)

Yigal Unna, director general of the Israel National Cyber directorate, said at the conference that the Middle East is a “magnet for cyberattacks,” with Iran identified as one of the five most active players all over the world, targeting mainly Gulf states for attacks because they are less protected than Israel.

“Israel is prepared for cyber threats; we have the capability to respond forcefully to cyberattackers, and not necessarily on the same vector as the attacks,” he said.

The Iranians work not only to collect data, or intelligence, but to cause damage by wiping out it out, he said.

The new threats the world is witnessing include attacks on supply chains, targeted ransom attacks on large corporations, a substantial increase in revelations of vulnerabilities in various technological infrastructures, and a substantial decrease in the amount of time between the discovery of a vulnerability and its exploitation.

He said the Cyber Net, set up by the National Cyber Directorate, has some 1,000 active users, among whom are government agencies and private firms. The Net  acts like a sort of “social media” for cybersecurity, connecting relevant officials at firms and government entities to shared information and updates on how to foil attacks.

Unna added that a new system to detect website defacement, called Trackzilla, set up by the Directorate has been shown to be effective in lowering the number of hacks. The system does passive scanning of all the major websites in Israel and if it sees a defacement, it engages with it, and fixes the attacked website.

According to data he presented, in the past half-year alone, 40 Israeli cybersecurity firms raised a total of $850 million in funding compared to a total of $1.1 billion in 2018. In the first half of the year, Israeli cybersecurity firms recorded seven exits totaling $1.5 billion, he said.

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