Netanyahu: Islamic Terrorists Increasingly Embracing Cyberwarfare

Speaking at Israeli cybersecurity conference, PM says militant Islamist groups are trying to take the world back to the Dark Ages using the sophisticated tools of cyber terrorism.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the Cybertech 2016 conference in Tel Aviv on January 26, 2016.
Reuters

The forces of militant Islam today may be medieval in their philosophies, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Tuesday – but they are increasingly modern in their methods.

“These militants are using the technologies that we use,” he said, addressing the crowd of international cyber technology experts gathered at the Tel Aviv Trade Fair and Convention Center for the Cybertech 2016 conference

The two-day annual event drew some 3,000 participants, organizers say, including representatives of leading multinational and Israeli corporations and startups, investors and entrepreneurs from the various fields of cybersecurity, as well as government and military officials from around the world. Among those present were U.S. Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas and Colonel Andre Lourenco Eiras, head of Brazil’s Cyber Defense Program, who is charged with cyber protection for the upcoming Olympics in that country.

“We are facing a force that challenges modernity, and that force is a savage primitive medievalism that seeks to take our world back to the dark ages of humanity, over a thousand years ago,” said Netanyahu.

“This is one of those few times in history in which the forces that seem to take humanity back are using some of the forces that take humanity forward. And this presents a greater challenge to us,” continued the prime minister, echoing a similar warning he made last week at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Netanyahu boasted that Israel was on the forefront of that fight, as one of the top five major cyber powers in the world, and accounting for about 10 percent of global sales in the cyber-security business. But, still, he admitted, in the cyber war against the “the forces of medievalism,” Israel could not stand alone. “There is a critical need for like-minded governments to have serious discussions about cooperation in the broader international realm,” he said.

This theme of cooperation was repeated during sessions on the first day of the conference: “In cybersecurity there are no borders,” stressed Zionist Union MK Erel Margalit, who heads Israel’s Cyber-Security Lobby in the Knesset. “If you want to be secure and open and private, you need to cooperate,” he reiterated, chairing a panel discussion on the need for a task force “among friends.”

On the question of what such cooperation might look like, Netanyahu, and others, were less detailed: “I do not seek to have a universal code, because it will work for cyber peacekeeping just like the UN works for international peacekeeping – it doesn’t,” said Netanyahu.

“What we need is a meeting of international leaders to discuss what could be done among countries that want to maintain freedom and safety in their societies,” said Netanyahu, suggesting the establishment of “international standards” to increase cybersecurity. “This is something that has yet to be done, but I’ve been speaking about this with world leaders,” he said.

Gustav Lindstorm, head of the emerging security challenges program at the Geneva Center for Security Policy, added that it was quite clear to all that the only way to fight cyber threats – be they in arenas of finance, national defense or any other – was for countries to cooperate.

“The multi-stakeholder model is indispensable,” he stressed, speaking on a panel about international cooperation and shared responsibility. “Cybersecurity cannot be achieved by a single stakeholder, structure or organization. There is simply no way.”

Speaking after Netanyahu at the opening plenary session, Gil Shwed, the founder and CEO of Check Point Software Technologies, said that while advances in cybersecurity have been great, cyber threats are growing at an even more alarming rate.

“We tend to think about cybersecurity threats in the way we think of conventional threats. But it’s different,” he said, explaining that in cyberspace it’s often unclear who are the enemies, what their motives are or what weapons they have in their arsenals. If, said Shwed, in conventional warfare, one could rely on intelligence, deterrence and retaliation – in cyberspace, these were both harder to get right, and also not enough. “By the time the malware is inside – damage is already done,” he said. “We need to be one more step ahead.”