Israel media review

System error: What the press is saying about hacks and cheap cracks

A ransomware attack on a hospital exposes some big issues; speaking unclearly becomes an art form; and a ‘terror-backing’ Knesset aide’s suspension sparks some questions

A cat working at the computer. (Tanased Hemathulin/iStock via Getty Images)
A cat working at the computer. (Tanased Hemathulin/iStock via Getty Images)

1. A different kind of infection: Israel’s health system is still trying to catch its breath Friday morning, two days after a ransomware attack took over the computers at Hillel Yaffe Medical Center in Hadera.

  • Dr. Amnon Ben Moshe, administrative director of the hospital, tells ToI that they still don’t know the scale of the attack or when they’ll be able to get computers up and running again.
  • “We have no idea. We just worked all night,” he says (referring to Wednesday night).
  • “There is a long road ahead to recovery,” says cyber-security guru Einat Meyron. “We’ve seen similar events in the US, Belgium, and Portugal for example where hospitals were attacked, and they needed about three to six months just to get to a point where they could start working [normally] again.”
  • Three to six months isn’t so bad when the alternative is eternity. Channel 12 news reports that the damage is so extensive, taking out much of the hospital’s backup system as well, that parts of the computer system may be lost forever.
  • “Hillel Yaffe has begun recording info manually and it’s not clear how long it will take to find another service provider. One only has to imagine the scale of the damage from the hospital’s perspective, including reams of hospitalization files and patient histories,” the channel reports.
  • The channel says the hackers are seeking $10 million to free the computer system, but as a state body, Hillel Yaffe can’t pay ransoms. In the meantime, doctors say they are getting by okay. “Things are not out of control,” one says.
  • One silver lining is that the attack has brought the dangers of cyberattacks to the fore (Channel 12 notes the “worrying fact” that hospitals are not defined as critical infrastructure by the cyber directorate.)
  • In faraway Jerusalem, Shaare Zedek Hospital IT head Rivka Rudensky tells ToI’s Nathan Jeffay that she and others in similar jobs are girding for more attacks and trying to prepare as best as possible. “Everyone is on the edge of their seats, trying to make sure it’s over, but we are still meeting and taking steps,” she says.
  • “Israeli and global cyber experts are in agreement that the current trend of digital attacks is certain to continue, whether in the form of ransomware attacks or cyber warfare between global powers,” tech editor Guy Levy writes in Israel Hayom. “With time, these attackers will become increasingly brazen.”
  • National cybersecurity czar Erez Tidhar tells Army Radio that “this event should be a wake-up call for decision-makers,” and urges the passage of a Cyber Bill that would up security for hospitals. “It’s a national interest,” he adds.
  • Kan reports that the attack is being probed not only by local authorities, but international investigators as well.
  • Cybersecurity isn’t only for big institutions, writes May Brooks-Kempler on Channel 13 news’s website. It’s for everybody.
  • “Early threat detection, and of course preparedness, including backing up data and securing accounts via fairly simple tools, could be the difference between a marginal event and a disaster on a personal, organization or even diplomatic level,” she writes.

2. Snubs and flubs: If only snafus of statecraft were so easy to avoid. In fact, when reading between the lines trumps reading lines of code, the world of diplomacy becomes ripe for no shortage of hints, winks and nods that can be easily misunderstood, or understood all too well.

  • Take for instance Foreign Minister Yair Lapid’s meeting with US counterpart Antony Blinken. At one point, Blinken noted that the US and Israel could look at “every option” available against Iran, and that was enough for some to see a military threat lobbed at Tehran.
  • “It was one of those blink-and-you-miss-it moments in diplomacy, but it had significant weight,” JTA’s Ron Kampeas writes. “According to insiders involved in the issue, ‘other options’ can be seen as referring to enhanced sanctions, or other non-military forms of pressure. ‘Every option’ means military action may be on the table as well.”
  • Then there is opposition head Benjamin Netanyahu, who dropped any hint of subtlety in a speech at the high profile ceremony for outgoing Shin Bet head Nadav Argaman in which he seemingly pointedly left Prime Minister Naftali Bennett off a list of dignitaries mentioned at the top.
  • The snub garners a surprisingly hefty body of coverage across the Israeli media sphere, with most sites running headlines saying that Netanyahu “ignored” Bennett.
  • One exception is Kan, which instead runs a headline saying that “Netanyahu ‘forgot’ Bennett,” and reporter Itai Blumenthal quickly backs up those scare quotes.
  • Those at the ceremony say Netanyahu “purposefully skipped Bennett’s name and praised the rest of the senior officials attending. Those present said someone asked Netanyahu “’What about the prime minister?’ but he ignored it,” he reports.
  • Ynet reports that after giving his speech, Netanyahu avoided Bennett and skulked off to the side with his chief of staff. “Netanyahu acted in an unstatesmanlike and Trumpy manner,” a senior government official who was there tells the outlet. “Turns out he’s a petty man, what a disgrace.”
  • Haaretz’s Yossi Verter is also unimpressed by Netanyahu’s behavior while marooned in the opposition. “Netanyahu is adhering to the strategy of burning his bridges which has characterized him since he had to hand over the keys to Bennett in June,” he writes. “Every speech he makes has the opposite effect of what his interests require. Instead of seeking paths into the hearts of the (real or imagined) weak links in the coalition, he is reinforcing them, soldering them ever more tightly to their parliamentary seats.”
  • In Zman Yisrael, Shalom Yerushalmi tries to figure out if Bennett meant to burn bridges with the ultra-Orthodox by saying in a speech recently that he wanted to curb ultra-Orthodox power.
  • “Nobody, not his advisers or people who know him well, can say whether his comments were a slip-up, or a planned statement in order to deepen the rift with the ultra-Orthodox,” he reports.
  • While the comments were made at an English-language confab thrown by the English-language Jerusalem Post, Yerushalmi quotes a senior official who says Bennett spoke in English specifically to appeal to Conservative and Reform Jews, and concludes that the premier is indeed opening a new front against the ultra-Orthodox.

3. Photo finished: There’s a bit of a Rashomon situation going on with MK Ram Ben-Barak’s decision to suspend one of his aides and announce it publicly.

  • The move comes after a news site called Kol Yehudi reported that Linir Abu Hazaz took photos with former Jerusalem grand mufti Ekrima Sa’id Sabri. Sabri has expressed support for suicide bombings in the past, which means, by the transitive property, that Abu Hazaz is a terrorist or something?
  • Kol Yehudi reports that Ben-Barak and Abu Hazaz responded that she didn’t know about all that stuff in Sabri’s past or about other attendees also accused of supporting terror. Oh yeah? retorts the site: “But anyone who has spent any time on the Arab street knows that these are some of the most well-known figures to the Israeli Muslim world, that they’ve each been arrested and questioned many times. Sabri and [Waqf official Najah] Bakirat have been in the headlines endless times over fights with Israeli authorities.”
  • Yedioth Ahronoth puts the scandal on its front page, with the snooty caption “inconceivable.”
  • “How in the hell was she hired in the first place,” tweets ToI’s Tal Schneider, adding that Ben-Barak has some explaining to do regarding what kind of info Abu Hazaz was privy to given his job as head of the Knesset defense and Foreign Affairs panel.
  • Strangely, Israel Hayom does not take the easy dunk on Ben-Barak. It does, however, run a piece critical of Netflix for running a series on Palestinians while not making it all about terror. “Propaganda,” the paper chides.
  • But perhaps the Abu Hazaz story is not such a slam dunk. Haaretz reports on the story but from an opposite angle, one smelling of hypocrisy: “MK Ram Ben-Barak suspends aide after publication on website identified with the extreme right,” the paper’s headline reads, setting the tone.
  • The report notes that Ben-Barak’s move came after MK Itamar Ben Gvir, who knows a little something about extremists, sent a letter to the Yesh Atid MK demanding Abu Hazaz be fired.
  • What is not plainly included, but what Haaretz reporter Noa Landau tweets, is that there appears to be a double standard regarding Palestinian extremists and Jewish ones: “Of course Ben Gvir is against pictures with clerics questioned for supporting terror and released, he prefers pictures with real terrorists.”
  • Walla reporter Barak Ravid sees a double standard in how Abu Hazaz is treated versus Minister Elazar Stern, who withdrew his Jewish Agency leadership candidacy this week after prompting an uproar by saying he shredded anonymous complaints about harassment when he was IDF manpower chief. “Say, did Ram Ben-Barak already tweet about Stern? Nothing? Well after all he only shredded anonymous complaints. Had he taken a picture with someone I’m sure Ram Ben-Barak would say something,” he tweets.
  • And for those who prefer shrill anger over snark and sarcasm, Haredi journalist Israel Frey tweets that “A group of Kahanists rules the Knesset. Smotrich speaks of ethnic cleansing; Benzi Gopstein’s kid, for instance, worked as a parliamentary aide, and you have the gumption to start messing with an Arab woman who met, again, met (!) someone?”

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