Barak Acknowledges Israel's Cyber Offensive for First Time

Defense Minister says that Israel's focus is on cyber defense, describing it as 'the more important and difficult component'; comments come one month after sophisticated Flame virus hits Iran.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Wednesday acknowledged Israel's offensive cyberspace operations for the first time.

Speaking during a conference at Tel Aviv University, Barak stressed that in cyber warfare, as opposed to conventional warfare, it is more important to invest in defense than offense, and admitted for the first time that Israel has been developing and working on both tactics.

"Our goal with cyber defense, which is the more important and difficult component, is to prevent damage," Barak said. "It is more than we can benefit from an offensive action, even though both aspects exist."

Barak's explicit statement that "both aspects exist" comes after the Israel Defense Forces' website announced its cybernetics operations. There it was written that the operations include a focus on "information collection, defense, and classified military operations," among others. 

"We are preparing to be at the frontline of the worldwide cyber battle, both in civil and security systems," Barak said.

Late last month, Iran accused Israel of being behind the Flame virus that struck its computer systems. Every official that inspected the virus – including security companies, the UN Communications Agency and the Iranian security body – said Flame was the most sophisticated virus they had encountered, and from data available to them Flame appears to be the product of a state. In addition, they said the level of sophistication indicates that a great deal of work and knowledge was invested into the program.

"A single hacker can cause tremendous damage to the economic or national systems. The cyber can cause a butterfly effect," Barak warned. "The free world is under threat of Iranian terror, rebel states and organized crime, but the tools have not yet been developed for a systematic response, not on a national level nor on a level of global cooperation."

In response to the foreign minister's comments, Dr. Avitar Matanya, head of the National Cyber Defense Authority, said work is being done with the Justice Ministry and Foreign Ministry in two areas: principles for international cooperation, and the signing of agreements and treaties with foreign nations. Matanya said that by joining the international agreements and treaties with relevant countries, the State of Israel could "complement its strategic defense strategy and national infrastructure development program."

Ehud Barak - Tomer Appelbaum
Tomer Appelbaum