hightech - AP - November 16 2010
Israeli high-tech industry. Photo by AP
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Israel, we have been told time and again, is the start-up nation: a veritable hi-tech power, and a superpower in the field of computer and network security. Not only are Israel's private technology companies world leaders in this field, but if the broad hints of the national-security establishment are anything to go by, Israel has also developed advanced cyber-attack capabilities that succeeded in paralyzing the centrifuge system of Iran's nuclear-enrichment program.

All this progress, however, does not benefit the ordinary Israeli, who finds himself alone, exposed to cyber-criminals fishing intimate details from his private computer files and stealing his credit-card number.

The IDF and other security agencies have protected their electronic networks with sophisticated and robust defense mechanisms and cut off most of their computers from the wild worldwide web. Securing the networks of crucial national infrastructure such as Israel's Electricity Company and Mekorot (the water company) is the responsibility of the National Information Security Authority, a department of the Shin Bet. The security community is very aware of the implications of a cyber-attack and in last year's national civil-defense exercise, one of the scenarios was such an attack paralyzing a large power-station. Despite all these efforts, private citizens have remained vulnerable.

Our most sensitive and vital personal information is lodged with privately-held corporations; banks, credit companies, internet and mobile phone providers, and we have no way of knowing how good their information security is. The regulatory agencies, such as the Telecommunications Ministry and the Supervisor of Banks do not have the necessary resources and knowhow to oversee the field of electronic security, and attempts by the security agencies to make private companies comply with their strict norms has been resisted. The only official body responsible for protecting citizens from cybercrime is Israel Police's computer crimes unit, which numbers a handful of investigators concerned mainly with fighting online pedophilia. It cannot handle the growing industry of internet lawlessness.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced seven and a half months ago at a much-hyped press conference the formation of a new national cyber warfare headquarters which has yet to begin operations. Professionals in the field of computer security believe there is no need for a new body - instead it would make much more sense to add resources to the existing organizations and strengthen them through legislation to close the security gaps.

The Israeli credit companies claimed Tuesday morning that despite the hackers' boasts, the details of "only" 14,000 clients were stolen. Whatever the case, this is a significant breach that once again highlights the vulnerability of Israeli citizens who conduct most of their financial and personal affairs on the web.