Israel beset by flurry of reported cyber attacks


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

October 29, 2013, 8:40 a.m.


JERUSALEM -- With reports of the U.S. National Security Agency tapping the phones of its allies' leaders and the latest suspicion that Russia handed out "Trojan horse" USB flash drives at the G-20 summit last month, cyber-spying season is in full bloom.

Israel too is awash with cyber concerns with a flurry of recent reports underscoring the challenges posed by cyber warfare in areas including national security, industrial secrets and private finances.

In the small-scale department, hackers have recently defrauded dozens of Israelis of hundreds of thousands of dollars by hacking their Gmail accounts to uncover information about overseas bank accounts, Israeli mediareported Tuesday. Such attacks, of course, are not uncommon and not specific to Israel.

Other attacks aim much higher.

Earlier this month, the Israeli military's Chief of Staff Benny Gantz warned that the next war could start in any number of ways, including a cyber attack on civilian infrastructure that could paralyze the country.

The month before, a computer malfunction shut down the Carmel Tunnels, a toll road serving a key traffic artery to Haifa and Israel's north, causing a massive snarl and heavy financial losses.

This week, Associated Press reported that the shutdown was the result of a cyber attack that gave hackers control over the tunnel.

The managing company, however, denied the report, claiming the malfunction originated in an internal component disconnected from external systems.

In May, an Israeli official revealed the country had thwarted a cyber attack against the water system of Haifa. Behind the attack, he said, was the Syrian Electronic Army, the same group that claimed responsibility for hacking President Obama's Twitter account this week.

Also this week, Israeli media reported an attempted attack on 140 senior figures in the country's leading security and defense industries, who received emails containing malware programmed to steal and copy information. The emails appeared to originate from a German company known in the field but were tracked back to Chinese defense industries, the reports said.

Not every computer malfunction is caused by hackers, Israeli homeland security blogger Arie Egoziwrote,  suggesting that media outlets were competing against each other to expose or inflate attacks.

But whether the Carmel Tunnels mishap was an attack or not, targeting Israel's critical infrastructure is a concrete, constant concern. In addition to various government authorities entrusted with cyber defense already in place, state-owned utility operator Israel Electric Corp. is launching a cyber-training facility.

Dubbed the "CyberGym", the center is designed to teach cyber defense to strategic companies including those in the energy and infrastructure industries.

Employing what Israel Electric calls "the best hackers in Israel and abroad" to practice real-time events, the center will be inaugurated Wednesday in Hadera, home to a major power plant.

The utility company alone fights off as many as 20,000 attempted cyber attacks every day and is on the critical infrastructure list along with water, communications and other facilities undergoing a security upgrade overseen by Israel's military.

In April, an attack threatening to "erase Israel from cyber space" disrupted Israeli government and other websites but caused little permanent damage.