‘Syria attempted to sabotage Haifa’s water supply’

Senior Science Ministry official says hackers launched failed cyberattack on northern city’s water infrastructure

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel.

A sign warns of polluted water outside Haifa on May 18, 2013. (Shay Levy/Flash 90)
A sign warns of polluted water outside Haifa on May 18, 2013. (Shay Levy/Flash 90)

Syrian hackers attempted to sabotage Haifa’s water supply two weeks ago in retaliation for Israeli airstrikes on Damascus earlier this month, a senior Israeli cyberdefense expert said Saturday.

Speaking at a series of lectures in Beersheba, Professor Yitzhak Ben Yisrael, a reservist brigadier general who heads the Science Ministry’s National Council for Research and Development and is a former MK (Kadima), said the Syrian Electronic Army’s hackers launched an unsuccessful cyberattack on the northern city’s water infrastructure.

He noted that Israeli energy, water, stock market, defense, and government computer systems are under constant assault from hackers. “The number of attacks is enormous,” Ben Israel said. “I can’t follow it from my computer at home, but it’s hundreds of attacks per minute. It’s hard to grasp the numbers in this matter.”

Israeli internet security expert Dr. Tal Pavel warned The Times of Israel in February that Syria and Iran could attempt cyberattacks on Israeli infrastructure. Pavel told Israel Radio on Saturday that the Syrian Electronic Army denied two weeks ago reports that it had infiltrated Israeli infrastructure networks.

Haifa Mayor Yonah Yahav reacted to Ben Israel’s statement saying “we aren’t aware of an attempted Syrian attack of this sort, but we are aware that Haifa is a symbol of the North and is a strategic target for our enemies.”

Haifa, a coastal Mediterranean port city straddling Mount Carmel, is home to close to 300,000 people and is the base of operations for the Israeli Navy. The greater metropolitan area is home to approximately one million Jews and Arabs.

Nur Eldan, CEO of Haifa’s local water company, said that he received no information about the alleged Syrian attack targeting the city’s water.  

“I only heard about this today,” he was quoted by Ynet saying. “We didn’t sense any problem, nor did we receive any update about this incident.”

According to Eldan, the Carmel Water Company didn’t receive any special warning to change anything in the water inspection system.

A Syrian hacking collective known as the Syrian Electronic Army, and suspected of being an agent of Damascus, claimed responsibility for recent attacks on The Associated Press, The Financial Times and the BBC.

US officials on Saturday also pointed the finger at Iran for a series of similar cyber attacks on American oil, gas and electricity infrastructure.


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