The Israeli army said Wednesday that it thwarted dozens of Iranian and Iranian-affiliated cyberattacks targeting military computer systems over the last year.
The IDF has identified more than twenty cyber units operated by Iran – and almost half of them have attempted attacks against Israel.
Israeli army officers say that Iranian cyberattacks against Israel's security establishment have so far failed to cause significant damage. However, some attempted attacks have succeeded in penetrating systems defending civilian infrastructure since 2020. These attacks have been directly or indirectly linked to Iran.
Two of the most significant attacks were directed at Hadera's Hillel Yaffe Hospital in October 2021, and at Mekorot water company’s pipelines in April 2020. The IDF's Cyber Defense Unit, which is subordinate to the Computer Service Directorate, played a significant role in repairing the damage to the hospital.
Last July, the Health Ministry estimated that the damage amounted to 36 million shekels (some ten million dollars). According to Israeli officers, the Iranians are trying to damage civilian systems as part of their efforts to sway the Israeli public, even though these targets are not related to the Israeli army.
The IDF says that these cyberattacks – a large part of which are attributed to Iran and Hezbollah, and are carried out in cooperation between them – have intensified in recent years. Through intelligence and preemptive actions, the Israeli army has aided the defense efforts coordinated by the National Cyber Directorate, which works under the Prime Minister's Office. Some of the Iranian attacks have attempted to disrupt the ongoing activity of IDF units by focusing on the electromagnetic spectrum.
A senior Israeli officer added that the rapid advance in the field is a global phenomenon, and is evident both in Israel and among its regional rivals. "Cyber has become a new dimension of combat over the past decade, and this thing is accelerating like crazy the world over," he said. "There is a kind of cyber arms race going on here, in which we have to preempt the enemy. We must win the battle for cyber and spectrum superiority, in both defense and offense," he added. "We'll have to put our foot on the gas, because our enemies are also engaged in this."
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The officer said that although missiles and rockets will remain the central threat against Israel in the coming years, cyberattacks will gradually develop into a greater threat to Israel's security in the long term. He rejected the possibility of the IDF leading the national cyber defense efforts, as that was the reason for the establishment of the National Cyber Directorate, which coordinated the various relevant defense bodies.
"There is no logic in deploying the IDF for every ransom attack on the internet," he said. "Superpower-level tools have been developed here, and they should focus on the state's central missions."