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As Pence, Putin, dozens more landed at Ben Gurion Airport

Cyberattacks targeted world leaders’ planes as they flew into Israel last week

At least 800 attacks, including from Iran and Poland, were beaten back by Israel’s newly upgraded air traffic cyber defenses, officials say

US Vice President Mike Pence waves as he disembarks from a plane with his wife Karen, upon their arrival at Ben Gurion International Airport ,to attend the World Holocaust Forum at the Yad Vashem memorial center, January 23, 2020. (Ammar Awad/Pool Photo via AP)
US Vice President Mike Pence waves as he disembarks from a plane with his wife Karen, upon their arrival at Ben Gurion International Airport ,to attend the World Holocaust Forum at the Yad Vashem memorial center, January 23, 2020. (Ammar Awad/Pool Photo via AP)

As Israel hosted dozens of world leaders last week for the World Holocaust Forum, the country’s cyber defense system fended off hundreds of cyberattacks targeting the country’s international airport and the planes of the world leaders.

Citing officials from the Airports Authority Cyber Division, Channel 12 reported Sunday that at least 800 distinct cyberattacks targeted Israeli aviation on Thursday while world leaders, including US Vice President Mike Pence and Russian President Vladimir Putin, were landing in the country.

All the attacks were successfully beaten back, officials said.

The attackers came from Iran, China, North Korea, Russia, and Poland, the report said.

The attacks “were directed at the airport and the planes,” the report said, “and were aimed at disrupting the flight paths of more than 60 planes carrying heads of state, kings and presidents.”

Officials said Israel was prepared for the onslaught because security preparations for the high-level diplomatic gathering included planning for just such attacks.

Russian President Vladimir Putin lands in Israel for World Holocaust Forum, January 23, 2020. (Screen grab)

The announcement came just two weeks after a January 12 cabinet decision that placed Israel’s aviation infrastructure under the protection of the National Cyber Security Authority, a division of the Prime Minister’s Office that coordinates the country’s cyber defenses.

The growing ubiquity of networked systems in airports, control towers and planes has increased the danger of hackers successfully penetrating air traffic computers and causing chaos and devastation.

The US, Israel and other nations have all responded to the threat in recent years by dramatically increasing the investment in cyber defenses for these systems.

“Hercules,” a special project of Israel’s cyber security authority, was launched in 2017 to map out the dangers to aviation and develop solutions, including R&D, international cooperation, and new training for pilots and other related personnel for handling cyber emergencies.

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