Netanyahu: Global Cyberattack Causes Minor Damage in Israel

'There has been no evidence of damage to essential and national infrastructure or of systematic harm to the economy,' National Cyber Defense Authority says

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, on his way into his weekly meeting, May 14, 2017.
Emil Salman

The damage caused in Israel by Friday's cyberattack has been relatively minor, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday.

Friday's cyberattack hit 200,000 victims in at least 150 countries and that number could grow when people return to work on Monday, the Europol's said on Sunday. Europol's director, Rob Wainwright, told British television that the attack was unique in that the ransomware was used in combination with "a worm functionality" so the infection spread automatically.

The attack involved the use of ransomware in which recipients are tricked into opening email attachments infecting their documents. The recipients then receive a message demanding payment of hundreds of dollars to restore the documents.

Speaking at the start of Sunday's cabinet meeting, Netanyahu's statement marked a shift from an earlier statement from the National Cyber Defense Authority that said that there had been no indication that anyone in Israel had suffered harm from the cyberattack.

"We are in the midst of a global cyberattack," Netanyahu said Sunday. "Up to this moment, there has been no harm to our critical infrastructure. Other damage is minor, but that's up to this moment and anything could change." Israel must invest additional resources to ensure that the country is protected from this new kind of attacks, he added.

On Sunday the National Cyber Defense Authority said: "There has been no evidence of damage to essential and national infrastructure or of systematic harm to the economy. There are an isolated number of citizens who have sustained damage as well as a number of suspicions of the attempted attack on a limited number of organizations and government ministries." The matters are being examined and addressed on an immediate basis, the statement added.

An Israeli officer said that such cyberattacks happen periodically, but can't be considered as particularly advanced or sophisticated. "This is a very broad attack that affects many places - and there will be more of these," he warned.

According to the officier, software updates produced by security firms are the solution to fix security failures and the IDF "assesses and updates all the time" the personal programs it uses. 

He added that no cyberattack has ever been detected in the IDF's operational systems. "The capabilities of our adversaries are evolving, so the defense challenges will increase," said the officer. "Attempts have always been made. Successes - none."

Adam Feld, the owner of the cybersecurity firm Cybergrip, warned that the potential damage that the ransomware virus could cause is much greater and there are thousands of computers and computer servers in Israel that could be vulnerable to it. Cybersecurity researcher Tal Be'ery told Haaretz that there is genuine concern that the peak of the cyberattack has not yet come. Because infection from the virus is the result of users' opening malware attachments, the extent of further damage could also depend on the extent to which additional users are coaxed into falling into the trap, Be'ery added.

"The global reach is unprecedented," he said. "At the moment, we are in the face of an escalating threat. The numbers are going up; I am worried about how the numbers will continue to grow when people go to work and turn [on] their machines on Monday morning."