Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday called on nations to collaborate to fight growing cybersecurity threats, which he said can cripple the most sensitive systems of nations and bring down airplanes and fighter jets. To underline the threat, the prime minister simulated a hacking attack in the course of his address.
“One of the greatest challenges facing humanity,” he said, speaking at a cybersecurity conference in Tel Aviv, is securing our devices, our airplanes and our networks. To demonstrate the threat, Netanyahu faked a hacking attack on the conference by a country not far from Israel, with a voice and slide presentation that told the attendees that their bank accounts, private conversations and information were being shared with the enemy.
This scenario, he said, “is not far-fetched.” States can do this and much worse, he warned.
But, Netanyahu said, nations can defend themselves from the cybersecurity threat. “It is an ever-present race,” and the outcome is not guaranteed. “We need to run ahead and stay ahead.”
Israel, he said, is in a good place when it comes to cybersecurity — and the world recognizes this. The nation, which had cybersecurity exports of $3.8 billion in 2017, gets some 20 percent of private global investment in cyber security. “We are punching at 200 times above our weight here,” he said. “My goal was to make Israel one of the top five cyber powers. We have reached that and even further.”
There are 480 cybersecurity companies operating in Israel, with 50 international R&D centers in the sector. Israel is ranked among the top 10% in cyber academic research, and in 2017 the nation attracted some $815 million in investments, Netanyahu told the gathering of some 8,000 attendees from 60 countries at the Cyber Week conference in Tel Aviv.
The Beersheba Cyber Security Complex set up in the south of the country will help boost dialogue between academia, the military and industry, he said. This generates some risk, especially to the army, but it is worth the risk because “cybersecurity grows through cooperation,” he said.
Because the digitalized and connected world presents new tremendous new opportunities and new wealth, there is no going back, he said.
“We cannot go back to a world of levers, pullies and couriers,” he said. And since the world is going forward, it is “absolutely vulnerable.”
“Our airlines can be brought down, our fighter planes can be brought down,” as can systems in all countries. “So, we have unbelievable opportunities” but at the same time also “unbelievable challenges and we must confront them. There will be no silver bullet. It doesn’t exist.”
Netanyahu said that the national Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) that operates in Beersheba manages to monitor events and stop “quite a bit” of the attacks.
“But the only way we can address this enormous challenge to the enormous opportunity is to keep running ahead, faster and faster and faster. This is a supreme test for our civilization; it is going to be tested not only by criminal organizations, but terrorists and by other states. We have to combine forces, to protect the present and ensure the future.”