Israel ramps up cyber defense with new national body

A new government effort will promote the enhanced cooperation that experts say is key to ensuring cyber safety

General Keith Alexander speaks at Tel Aviv University's Cyber Research Center (Photo credit: Courtesy)
General Keith Alexander speaks at Tel Aviv University's Cyber Research Center (Photo credit: Courtesy)

Israel is stepping up its cyber-defense efforts. The government on Sunday announced establishment of a new cyber-defense authority to coordinate cyber-security efforts among government, industry, and the civilian sectors. Just last year, it set up the National Cyber Bureau and the two steps show that the nation is taking cyber threats seriously, now that it’s a favorite target for politically motivated hackers.

Heading the new effort will be the National Cyber Bureau head, Dr. Eviatar Matania, who will be given “the authority to defend the civilian sphere from cyber threats and will constitute an operative agency that will act alongside the National Cyber Bureau, which will continue to build and maintain the State of Israel’s national strength as an international leader in the field,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said in a statement.

Experts say Israel is the target of almost daily attacks, especially denial of service (DDOS), in which hackers try to flood a site with messages to paralyze it. Israeli cyber-security arms have been so effective in blocking the attacks that most never even cross the threshold of public awareness. Such attacks multiplied during the summer war against Hamas terrorists in Gaza, but none caused significant damage.

The announcement of the new body comes just a week after a major international event on cyber-security, sponsored by Tel Aviv University’s Cyber Research Center (ICRC). Dozens of cyber-security officials and experts gathered to discuss the latest on-line threats and how to defend against them.

Among the speakers was former NSA Director Gen. (ret.) Keith Alexander, who emphasized the need for cooperation in cyber-defense. In fact, said Alexander, the only way our data-dependent society is going to survive is for industry, academia, and investors to join forces and fight the cyber-criminals and terrorists. Because there are so many ways for hackers to steal data – whether via “human engineering,” persuading people to click on links that install malware, or by physically invading a premises and attaching a flash drive to a computer, or by sheer virtual force with denial of service attacks, a comprehensive strategy must be developed, Alexander said. Today, many of the solutions are piecemeal, targeting specific issues and failing to take into account the “big picture.” That’s why more cooperation is needed, he said — the more heads involved in presenting different aspects of the problem, the better the solution will be.

The new Israeli cyber-security effort will enhance that cooperation, at least to some extent, Netanyahu said at Sunday’s cabinet meeting. “I decided last week to develop a national authority on the cyber issue to defend the State of Israel on cyber-security issues,” the statement quoted Netanyahu as saying. “That is, defending not only important facilities and security agencies, but defending Israeli citizens against these attacks as well. This is, in effect, the creation of an air force against new threats and not relying on this being carried out by existing agencies. We are in a new world; we are preparing with new forces. This has very major significance for the defense of the State of Israel in the future.”

“Dealing with the cyber threat on the national level in the coming decades constitutes a strategic challenge that all countries must deal with,” Matania said. “This is a historic decision. The establishment of a national cyber defense authority, alongside the effort to build advanced and unique technologies will bolster the State of Israel’s position as a leader in the field and make a major contribution to defending the economy and encouraging growth.”

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