Any future war Israel fights will involve massive attempts to hack Israel’s computer and infrastructure networks, the founder of Israel’s first cyber-defense unit says. “The rival side has the ability to do it,” Erez Kreiner, who established the unit in the Shin Bet security service, told Haaretz. “In recent years we have seen an enormous rise in cyber-attacks and attempted cyber-attacks, although most of these were by less professional elements.”
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Kreiner founded the National Information Security Authority in 2002, following a cabinet decision under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. A computer engineer by profession, he began his career in the Shin Bet as a security guard on planes and in embassies. He headed the authority until late 2012, and is now CEO of an independent consulting company on cyber defense.
“There are constant attempts to hack Israel’s critical systems, some to study them and some to attack them,” says Kreiner. Over the past year Israel experienced several attacks that result in “denial of service.” The sites of the Bank of Israel and those of government ministries were targets of such attacks. “That creates somewhat of a public panic, but that has so far not caused damage to the state,” says Kreiner. What bothers him more is the potential “for a pinpointed, smart attack that comes in under our radar. The ability to harm us is there. It’s just a matter of making the decision.”
Some of these attacks in recent years appear to have been state-sponsored, he says. “A country can be hiding behind someone who looks like an individual hacker. As a defender, you have to take into consideration that someone may have penetrated your system six months ago and is waiting to attack when it suits him. And in contrast to physical warfare, the hacker on the other side has almost no risk of paying a price,” says Kreiner.
Over the past year, U.S. oil companies and others in Saudi Arabia and Qatar were attacked, resulting in major disruptions, he notes. The United States openly pointed a finger at Iran. Two years ago the National Cyber Bureau was established above the National Information Security Authority to coordinate all the activity in the sphere. The dozens of people working at the authority, according to Kreiner, are the equivalent “of the potential of dozens of start-ups in the private sector.”
Israel’s cyber defenses are exponentially better, he says, but “the more time that passes, the greater the need for expanded defense, in economic areas and not only in infrastructure.” He cites transportation and industry, which for the most part were not built with the necessary protection against cyber warfare, he says.
Overall, however, he says that the government’s protection systems have ensured that Israel is in a “reasonably” good position. “We don’t have the extensive resources the Americans do, but we remain a leader in the cyber realm. The difference between us and them is between a speedboat and an aircraft carrier. We respond faster,” Kreiner says.