Cyber-attack: Israel's half-hour online siege

As American intelligence agencies draw the worlds attention to the power of international hackers, Israeli cyber-experts are surprisingly relaxed.


“I feel more confident sitting in Israel than the US when it comes to cyber security,” said Haifa University professor Gabriel Weimann on Sunday, as the conclusions from CIA hacking investigations were hitting the global headlines.

According to the Washington Post, the CIA has concluded that individuals with connections to the Russian government gave hacked emails to WikiLeaks in order to help Donald Trump.

Professor Weimann, one of the Middle East’s top researchers on cyber-threats and a victim of attempted hacks, did not pass judgment on the CIA report, but discussed Israel’s readiness to confront online threats. He said that longstanding experience and centralised defences are combining to give Israel a high level of protection, despite the massive number of daily attacks intended to paralyse websites and state infrastructure.

“The Israelis are attacked more than anyone else in the world, and this makes you more prepared,” he said, arguing that being targeted early in the history of hacking, and often, has actually helped the Jewish state.

Given a map by this interviewer showing a particularly intense half-hour last week when the majority of all large-scale cyber attacks in the world were aimed at Israel, he was not surprised.

The map, from the Google-backed website Digital Attack Map showed a mass of dotted lines, denoting hackers’ efforts, converging on Israel. The attacks came from places including Mozambique, Zambia, Bolivia and the Pacific island of Guam.

Prof Weimann admitted that the hacking efforts were intense, but noted that according to the latest estimates, there were between one and two million hacking attempts against Israel every day, with hackers viewing everything from the government and military to the media and NGOs as fair game.

“There are many motivations, including politics, religion and ideology,” he said. “Plus, for some non-ideological hackers, is it just a challenge to target Israel.” Given that Israel’s defences are so strong, a successful attack on an Israeli target is a kind of right-of-passage for some hackers, unrelated to their political views.

So how does the tech-loving nation continue to surf the web, and have its advanced infrastructure operate normally, as the attacks come thick and fast? Prof Weimann said: “If you look at the map you will expect huge damage — collapse. But you won’t find many successful attacks, which means either that they are lousy or we are defending ourselves well, or a combination of the two.”

Capabilities are not just high, but efforts are well organised, he said. They are more centralised than in most other countries, with different arms of the state pooling their resources, and working closely with the private sector. In April, the centralisation went a stage further with the launch of the National Cyber Defence Authority, tasking with maintaining “a full and constant defensive response to cyber attacks.”

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