bomb - Assayag - June 17 2011
Soldiers taking part in last year’s defense drill in Ashdod port. Photo by Ilan Assayag
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Next week's national civil defense exercise, Turning Point 5, will include a simulated cyber attack on strategic infrastructure - the Orot Rabin power station in Hadera.

The simulated attack on the plant's computer system will force the National Emergency Authority, Home Front Command and the Israel Electric Corp. to confront a scenario in which the country's power production capacity suddenly drops by 40 percent.

The drill is the first of its kind: In the five-day nationwide exercise, all government ministries, the defense establishment and the Union of Local Authorities will practice their response to a massive attack on the home front.

"We already faced cyber attacks during Operation Cast Lead, but those were mainly hacker attacks on websites," said Brig. Gen. Ze'ev Tzuk-Rom, head of the National Emergency Authority. "The significant threat is a hit on computer systems that could paralyze crucial national infrastructure - during a war, but also during peacetime."

During the exercise at Orot Rabin, power delivery will not be interrupted. But the officials involved will have to operate as if the plant, which supplies 40 percent of the country's power, has been knocked out of commission.

"The drop in production capacity means, first of all, that we have to decide what to do with the 60 percent of the electricity still left," said Tzuk-Rom. "Do we supply electricity first to hospitals, IDF bases, crucial factories or households? In which areas, and during which hours of the day?

"This issue has never been drilled in an organized fashion, and we will try to examine how this would affect the economy and the civilian population," said Tzuk-Rom, who noted that a missile attack or natural disaster could also seriously interrupt electricity supply.

The various agencies will also practice ascertaining if the damage to the computer systems is the result of an attack or simply a malfunction. They will practice ensuring that the damage doesn't spread to other crucial agencies or the rest of the power grid. Another question is how the government will respond, assuming the attacker can be identified.

"A cyber attack that can paralyze crucial infrastructure in Israel doesn't come from ordinary hackers," said a senior defense source. "It can only come from powerful countries, and we have to be prepared for that."

Home Front Defense Minister Matan Vilnai said that this year, defense against cyber attacks is playing a greater role in the national exercise "because if we hadn't floated the issue, it wouldn't have been dealt with at this level.

"We have to recognize that as Israel becomes more computerized and its infrastructure is more reliant on and controlled by computers, we're more susceptible to this type of attack."